Criterion: Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman, Disc 4
After a couple lighter and lackluster entries to round out 1964, the series re-invented itself in 1965, taking the character away from the formula and towards some darker areas. The foundations of the formula are still intact, with the hero wandering to a village to find distress and abuse. This time the adventure is personal, as he encounters a former mentor of his whose daughter has been forced to prostitute for the bosses in order to pay off her father’s debts.
Not only was the tone darker in this iteration, but the filmmaking was more creative. They experimented with different shot angles, which enhanced both the character moments and the actions. They also take Zatoichi away from his ethical code to never attack unless attacked. As the title implies, this time Zatoichi takes more initiative and [SPOILER ALERT]initiates the attack and murder of the villains. This is the first time in the series that he has used his cane sword as an offense rather than defense.[/SPOILER]
Movie Rating: 7.5/10
ZATOICHI AND THE DOOMED MAN
They cannot all be diamonds. The 10th film in the series was, in my opinion, easily the worst. Aside from some good landscape shots, a more confident use of color, the direction was lazy. The character development was practically non-existent, and the pacing sluggish. This one features one of the largest battles in the series, and they instituted a series of traps to try and outsmart the swordsman – not a man idea, both logistically and creatively – but the execution was off. It was one of the least thrilling action scenes in the series. On top of that, the ending was rather sudden without much resolution.
Movie Rating: 4.5/10
ZATOICHI AND THE CHESS EXPERT
My disappointment with the 11th film didn’t last long, as I quickly found myself engaged with the 12th and it is my favorite of the bunch so far. Zatoichi finds a friendly, chess-playing samurai who he forges a bond with and becomes a traveling companion. The chemistry between the two actors reminded me of the debut film, where Zatoichi gained respect and forged a friendship with a samurai hired by the opposing clan. Adding a richly drawn, strong male character contrasted well with Zatoichi’s demure and quiet persona. There were other strong character moments, such as his relationship with a woman that he had widowed by killing her husband, and the daughter that he becomes fond of. There was less action, but that worked to give the characters space to breath, and let the character suspense develop. The climax chess match was brilliantly done.
Movie Rating: 8/10