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Wandering the countryside, blind masseur and gambler Zatoichi (Shintaro
Katsu) accidently causes the death of an old woman, when he actually
wanted to give her money to redeem her granddaughter from a geisha-house.
Overcome by guilt, Zatoichi goes to the geisha-house in the old woman's
place, finds out the girl, Nishikige (Kiwako Taichi), then visits the next
gambling den to make enough money to redeem her.
Of course in no time he has freed the girl and this could be a happy
end, right ?
Wrong, because wherever Zatoichi goes, trouble follows, and in no time
he has had to kill 5 assassins after him while the ruthless local Yakuza
boss has ordered him dead - and his right hand man MAngoro (Asao Koike)
would only be too happy to oblige. And then there's Nishikige's boyfriend
Ushi (Katsuo Nakamura), who is half mad with jealousy because he thinks
Zatoichi has bought her as his love slave (which is not true, he initially
even resists her advances), and who eventually even convinces Nichikige to
help him get rid of Zatoichi - even if that means she has to sleep with
Zatoichi, which drives Ushi even madder.
But then Ushi makes the fatal mistake to throw in with Mangoro, and
Mangoro does help to capture Nishikige as a bait for Zatoichi, but then
his plans differ wildly from Ushi's ...
But first, Zatoichi is really lured into Mangoro's den, where Nishikige
is tied to a post as a hostage, and suddenly Zatoichi finds out with all
his swordsplay there is little he can do ... and eventually, Mangoro tells
Ushi to smash Zatoichi's hands so he can no longer wield his sword - which
Zatoichi lets happen with Nishikige being threatened. Then though, Mangoro
kills Ushi in cold blood, and forces Nishikige back into prostitution ...
only Zatoichi somehow escapes, and he has just enough time to bind his
sword to his arm to be able to fight despite his smashed hands, and then
he does what he does best, he slaughters everyone in sight, the whole
local Yakuza including their boss and evil Mangoro.
Then once again he walks off to find peace somewhere else ... and it's
only now that Nishikige notices what a mistake she has made ...
Despite the usual bloodletting and some very dranmatic scenes, this
movie fails to quite fall together, as the story for one has its lengths,
secondly there is an extensive subplot about the local Yakuza exploiting
the local fishermen that has little connection to the Zatoichi-tale, and
finally the main characters seem to lack real motivation: It is
understandable why Zatoichi redeems the girl, but why he stays with her
after that - and even though he knows she has someone else - is beyond be,
why Nishikige is on one hand immensely grateful to Zatoichi but on the
other hand helps having him killed (without success) doesn't really make
any sense as well, and why Ushi teams up with exactly those gangsters who
want to take Nishikige back to the brothel is beyond anybody's guess.
One of the weaker entries of the series, and by the way the last film
of the original Zatoichi-series (with 25 episodes made
between 1962 and 1972). Shintaro Katsu would return to the role though in
1988, for the film Zatoichi, which he, like Zatoichi in
Desperation, also directed.