Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (1964)

The franchise’s 7th movie is its first true disappointment with a middling story, low stakes and a weak villain.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dir. Kazuo Ikehiro
1964 | Japan | Action/Adventure/Drama | 82 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated (likely to be PG13)

Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Tatsuo Endo, Takashi Etajima
Plot: After being wounded in a fight, Zatoichi is nursed to health by a young woman and her father. Now indebted to the family, he works to protect their ferry business from local thugs.
Awards: –
Source: Kadokawa

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

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

The first true disappointment of the 25-film ‘Zatoichi’ franchise comes in the seventh outing, Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword, from Kazuo Ikehiro who directed the previous Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold in the same year. 

Perhaps it had been one movie too many to direct, and it shows in Flashing Sword which feels like a shoddy attempt to complete the film as fast as possible in order for Daiei studio to cash in on the audience’s insatiable appetite for their favourite blind swordsman.

(But then again, Tokuzo Tanaka made two excellent entries in the same year as well, in 1963, with New Tale of Zatoichi and Zatoichi the Fugitive.) 

There are a number of issues in Flashing Sword that are most obvious—a cowardly weak villain, low stakes and a middling story that doesn’t generate any suspense.  The movie goes through its motion without any meaningful connection with its characters.  

“I never draw first, but I’ve had about all I can take from you.”

Two rival bosses across a river are caught up in a personal conflict—one a bully, the other trying to play down the tension.  Meanwhile, an old fireworks maker is getting fireworks ready for a night celebration in the village. 

Zatoichi crosses paths with everybody and tries to right wrongs.  It all seems too easy for him, and in this movie, he seems too arrogant and takes human life a tad more nonchalantly than usual. 

More a circus act than a true swordsman in the action scenes, particularly in the finale, Zatoichi has the cheekiness to throw ‘hula hoops’ on a few men before killing them.  Injecting a bit of fun?  Nah, I think he’s just bored like us. 

Grade: C



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