Zatoichi’s use of violence to right wrongs is called into question in this well-made 13th installment.
Dir. Tokuzo Tanaka
1966 | Japan | Action / Adventure / Drama | 82 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated (likely to be PG13)
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Shigeru Amachi, Jun Hamamur
Plot: Promising to make a delivery for a dying man, the blind swordsman Zatoichi comes across the usual crime gangs but also meets a blind monk who brings into question his use of violence.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
I’m finally halfway through the Zatoichi series of films. This 13th installment, Zatoichi’s Vengeance, is well-made and one of the more satisfying entries in the franchise.
With an arc that sees Shintaro Katsu’s titular character at one point being utterly humiliated by a gang of criminals terrorising a quiet town to fighting back with his own brand of violence, the film benefits from Tokuzo Tanaka’s strong direction.
Tanaka had been responsible for one of my early favourites, New Tale of Zatoichi (1963), and here he sets Zatoichi as the saviour of the townsfolk, but not without some commentary on the justification of violence as a means to end oppression (a first for the franchise to explicitly comment on violence).
A blind monk who judges, perhaps too haughtily, Zatoichi’s actions is central to this as he pops up now and then to criticise the blind swordsman for not being a role model and setting a bad example to a young boy that he befriended.
This young boy is like us, an admirer of Zatoichi’s insanely good swordfighting skills that keeps the bad guys at bay—there’s a good number of protracted fight sequences that should please fans.
While Zatoichi’s Vengeance mostlyreturns to familiar tropes, there is slightly more focus on personal introspection here as Zatoichi does some soul-searching of his own. Whether he might change his ways, no matter how implicit, remains to be said.