A rare ‘Zatoichi’ entry with not one but two ruthless villains hogging the spotlight, which is a double-edged sword for character development, though it delivers in terms of action.
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Tatsuya Nakadai, Masayuki Mori, Reiko Ohara, Pita, Kazuko Yoshiyuki
Plot: Zatoichi meets an infamous blind leader of a gangster organization as he contends with a gloomy ronin widower.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Many have heaped praise on this 21st entry of the ‘Zatoichi’ franchise, with some saying that it is the best of the series. I’ll go slightly against the grain here—it’s okay.
Directed by Kenji Misumi in his sixth and final outing, Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival sees Shintaro Katsu go head-to-head with not one but two ruthless villains.
One of them, a ronin played by the legendary Tatsuya Nakadai, is as formidable in swordfighting as the blind masseur. Here Zatoichi is teased and subjected to mind games, with the ronin unwilling to take decisive action until the right moment.
“Even if you had become that despicable fellow’s mistress, it would’ve been better for you. You would have lived, at least.”
The other foe comes in the form of a similarly blind yakuza boss who has spent his time in power tormenting the poor and innocent. He pretends to be Zatoichi’s ally but his sinister intentions are plain to see.
If you have seen all the films up till this point, you might find Fire Festival to contain many more sexual references and innuendoes than before, plus a more generous serving of male nudity, particularly in a scene involving a bathhouse fight.
The film is largely entertaining and delivers in terms of action; however, having two villains is a double-edged sword for character development.
The ronin remains an enigma, and not quite in the positive sense, while the blind mobster seems to terrify only through fear and extortion. It’s quite incredible he’s not already long dead.