Zatoichi’s caught in between nasty gangsters and ungrateful villagers in this 14th entry that boasts great action but little in a way of a substantial story.
Dir. Kazuo Ikehiro
1966 | Japan | Action / Adventure / Drama | 82 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated (likely to be PG13)
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Michiyo Yasuda, Kunie Tanaka
Plot: Zatoichi’s trek through 88 temples to atone for his violent past is interrupted as he stumbles into a village terrorized by a violent yakuza boss.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
The word ‘pilgrimage’ in the title is a false promise. Instead of embarking on a holy journey to visit the 88 temples in a bid to cleanse himself from violence, Zatoichi gets stuck in another story trying to defend himself from those who want his head.
This was a case of the Daiei studio demanding a more straightforward narrative that will pull in the crowd, despite hiring Kaneto Shindo (one of Japan’s top directors at the time) to pen the script.
I wish they had put more faith in Shindo’s original treatment, but while there’s little in the way of a substantial story, it does boast great action.
“When you play with me you’re staking your life.”
“That’s the only way to gamble.”
In fact, in possibly the most violent scene—or more precisely, a shot really—in the series so far, we see the severed hand of a petty thief after he takes his antics too far, angering the blind swordsman in the film’s prologue.
In Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage, the titular character is caught in between nasty gangsters and the ungrateful villagers who are being taken advantage of by these gangsters.
Zatoichi’s motivation to step in is not as fully fleshed out as some of the series’ finer instalments, but at least there’s some genuine threat that the bad guys are able to pose.
This is also one of the rare instalments where Zatoichi has his work cut out fending them off, providing some situational tension through action that is intrinsically missing in the general narrative.