New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)

One of the most satisfying entries in the series, this third installment has a substantial and emotional storyline to match its superb action.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Tokuzo Tanaka
1963 | Japan | Action/Adventure/Drama | 91 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated (likely to be PG13)

Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Mikiko Tsubouchi, Seizaburo Kawazu
Plot: Wishing to find peace, Zatoichi travels to his old village but only finds trouble when he ends up in a love triangle and finds old scores have followed him home.
Awards: –
Source: Daiei

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

It may be too early to say, but as I slowly make my way through the 25-film ‘Zatochi’ feature film series, this third installment impressed me greatly, and might be one of the finest of the series. 

It is not just satisfying to enjoy as an action flick, but its treatment of the titular character is so far the richest.  I pray that it is not downhill from here. 

Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka, who would go on to make two more ‘Zatoichi’ pictures in Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963, 4th in the series) and Zatoichi’s Revenge (1966, 13th), New Tale of Zatoichi follows the blind masseur as he wanders into another town and serendipitously meet old friends. 

One of them, his old martial arts teacher, plays a central role in the narrative, and so is the teacher’s younger sister, whose feelings for Zatoichi creep up after many years. 

In a way, this is some kind of ‘origin story’ entry for the protagonist, and we learn more about him than the first two movies combined.  The storytelling is also to the point without any unnecessary convolution, which makes it easier to feel for the characters. 

One of the key themes of New Tale of Zatoichi is Zatoichi trying to find meaning in his lonely existence as he contemplates the stability of domestic life, whilst his violent past once again catches up with him. 

A key highlight is the climactic swordfight in the forest, which is more ambitiously set up—both dramatically and in terms of choreographic execution—than what has come before in previous films.  And there’s a bonus—the film is the first in the series with colour.

Grade: A-



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