Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)

The longest entry in the franchise, this excellent 20th instalment pits two Japanese swordfighting icons together as friend and foe, directed with assurance by Kihachi Okamoto.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,374

Dir. Kihachi Okamoto
1970 | Japan | Action/Adventure/Drama | 115 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Toshiro Mifune, Ayako Wakao
Plot: Zatoichi tries to unrest the mob rule over a small village all while the gang leader’s bodyguard is actually the Yojimbo, secretly taking the gang down from the inside. Will the two heroes realize in time that they are on the same side?
Awards:
Source: Toho

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

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No


Many people expected it to be a tantalising showdown between two Japanese screen icons, when in fact the movie is more concerned with drawing out drama through its myriad of twists and turns, revelations and deceptions. 

After all, this is not Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo, and as the film’s title clearly suggests, it is a crossing of paths (not swords) of these two flawed heroes as friend and foe. 

They do cross swords though, albeit briefly, but director Kihachi Okamoto isn’t interested in their duel.  Rather, he is more curious as to what they can bring to the table in terms of their personas, worldview and (in)action. 

This is the 20th film in the long-running series.  The fact that it is directed by Okamoto, possibly the most well-known filmmaker apart from Kenji Misumi to helm a Zatoichi movie at the time, puts this particular instalment under greater spotlight. 

“I’ve got blood on my hands again.”

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) returns to his old village that is now ruined by a controlling gang.  The eternally drunk Yojimbo (Toshiro Mifune), who is secretly trying to destroy the gang from within, is suspicious of Zatoichi’s presence. 

There is more narrative heft than usual, which is not a surprise as this is the longest film in the entire franchise at close to two hours. 

I find the wonderful chemistry between Katsu and Mifune crucial in giving the film a sardonic wit.  They are both equally flawed, scheming and greedy, not unlike the gangsters and people in positions of power.   

Through their encounters and constant acts of cynicism toward each other, they become mirrors of each other’s weaknesses.  This is one of the very best in the 25-film series.

Grade: A-


Trailer:

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