Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963)

This fourth ‘Zatoichi’ movie sees loyalties put to the test and swordfighting action on a larger scale.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Tokuzo Tanaka
1963 | Japan | Action/Adventure/Drama | 86 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated (likely to be PG13)

Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Miwa Takada, Masayo Banri
Plot: A yakuza gang targets the blind masseur Zatoichi after he defeats their group in a wrestling match. Meanwhile a long lost love of Zatoichi’s returns to his life.
Awards: –
Source: Kadokawa

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

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Tokuzo Tanaka returns for a consecutive directorial outing in this fourth ‘Zatoichi’ movie after his satisfying third entry, New Tale of Zatoichi (1963).  Called Zatoichi the Fugitive, the film sees the titular character wander into another village, finding himself embroiled in another yakuza revenge setup. 

In the opening sequence, he wilfully—and effortlessly—takes on one wrestler after another, disrupting what might have been a rigged competition that eventually sees a bounty on his head. 

One thing leads to another, and very soon, he becomes a pawn to be taken advantaged of by those in power, but not without reminding them that he is the most precise swordsman around. 

“Wherever I go, I’m the god of calamity.”

Tanaka takes the slightly complicated plot that sees certain characters’ loyalties—to family, love, code of honour—put to the test, fashioning a largely engrossing film with some scenes shot in the outdoors (which is a bit different from the earlier installments’ more studio-bound settings). 

There is also a more summer-style look to the visuals, with the sweltering heat useful for drying clothing, which Zatoichi does as he forms a kinship with a young woman caught between loving the ‘enemy’ and loyalty to her father.  Zatoichi’s old flame also appears early on, complicating matters of the heart. 

But what is most expected is the violence that ensues, as Zatoichi’s swordfighting skills become a necessity in settling the bloody conflict.  Action is done on a larger scale here, with a tense showdown with a formidable foe.

Grade: B+



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