Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

Rather unfocused and indulgent in its depiction of vices, this 24th instalment (featuring Shintaro Katsu in a rare outing as director) is also one of the franchise’s grittiest entries. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #2,521

Dir. Shintaro Katsu
1972 | Japan | Action/Adventure/Drama | 95 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some violence and sexual content

Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Kiwako Taichi, Kyoko Yoshizawa
Plot: After accidentally causing an old lady’s death, Zatoichi seeks out her daughter to atone for the tragedy, consequently getting into all sorts of trouble.
Source: Toho

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

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

One thing’s for sure, this is probably the least family-friendly entry out of the 25 movies.  With Shintaro Katsu in a rare outing as director, he gives us a rather indulgent effort that has more violence and gore than ever before, including a rather distressing scene where a child is assaulted. 

For the first time, we also see something that we might have long suspected—Zatoichi having sex with prostitutes, albeit in a scene where he becomes bait for an ambush by the enemy. 

Plot-wise, there’s nothing that we have not seen before: Zatoichi must stop gangsters who wield too much power in a small town. The setup is one of the weakest and most absurd prologues I’ve seen as an old woman accidentally falls to her death after encountering Zatoichi on a precarious-looking bridge.  

“We can be together when we die, right?”

Out of guilt, he tries to locate her next-of-kin in the next town, and finds himself embroiled in its dirty affairs. Zatoichi in Desperation could be said to be rather gritty in its aesthetics and approach to depicting the poor whose livelihood of fishing is brutally taken away. 

One could even feel the desperation in Zatoichi as he becomes further handicapped in the film, leading to a memorable improvised climactic fight.  However, the storytelling is unfocused—at some point, one might ask: who is he really fighting for? And why? 

Grade: C+


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