This mostly decent 18th installment balances drama with sharp swordfighting action in what is a decidedly darker film in tone.
Dir. Kimiyoshi Yasuda
1968 | Japan | Action/Adventure/Drama | 82 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some violence and sexual references)
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Kayo Mikimoto, Kyosuke Machida, Takashi Shimura, Shobun Inoue
Plot: Zatoichi confronts a corrupt police official and an outlaw gang to free a young woman enslaved in a silk mill.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Nearly three-quarters completed with the ‘Zatoichi’ series of films, I’m at a state where watching these films now feel comforting to me, regardless of their quality.
In this 18th installment called Zatoichi and the Fugitives, we have an entry that is mostly decent by the standards of the franchise, with Kimiyoshi Yasuda back (for the fourth time) as director.
Plot-wise, it isn’t anything sensational; neither is it run-of-the-mill as Shintaro Katsu’s character becomes embroiled in the inner dealings of a town’s nefarious authority that not only exploits women as slave labour in a silk mill but shelters fugitives on the run.
“Darkness makes no difference to a blind man.”
The film balances drama with sharp swordfighting action—here we see Zatoichi facing even greater threats (e.g. flying darts and a pistol) that could fatally wound him.
Fugitives is also the first time a doctor is introduced as a supporting character, played no less by Takashi Shimura (one of the most familiar faces in classic Japanese cinema), whose claim to fame had been through Akira Kurosawa in films like Drunken Angel (1948), Ikiru (1954) and Seven Samurai (1954).
Shimura gives a grave gravitas to the film despite his compassionate nature as a physician. Tonally, Fugitives is darker than usual with an epilogue that is marked by despair rather than triumph in the heroic sense.