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Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo
Zatoichi The Outlaw

June 2002                                                       SITE MAP   SEARCH
Zatoichi Meets
The One Armed Swordsman

cast: Shintaro Katsu, Jimmy Wang, and Hamaki Yuko

director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda

95 minutes (15) 1971
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warrior VHS retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Stephen Lee
Subtitled chop-socky movies are not my cup of tea but this 1970s' Water Margin styled series of films just had to be worth a look. Zatoichi, whom one shortens to Ichi, is a blind renegade Yakuza swordsman who travels the Japanese countryside eating fish, drinking hot sake, and having swordplay - even though he cannot see. Most fight scenes are well choreographed, however some are shot at night or in unlit buildings of the period, which makes for poor viewing. Lack of light on both sides might seem a honourable act in Japanese society to level the match but it's a no contest. Only one battle against enemies using binding ropes came close to defeating the unsighted hero.
   The one armed swordsman of the title is a foreigner from China who crosses the local samurai and becomes an outlaw. Unique story or not it interestingly unfolds that the one armed man barely speaks the language and so fails to communicate with Zatoichi. Yet, almost inevitably, they are drawn into fighting each other, which is a common occurrence I used to read in comic books.
   In oriental cultures everyone calls each other Auntie or Uncle, which also adds to the confusion, the costumes don't help with character recognition but are fitting for the period, which is a brutal class system. I would have enjoyed it more with either an English narration or better introduction of key characters like they used in the superior Water Margin, previously mentioned.
   The director fails to capture any comic moments mentioned on the video packaging. In fact, the whole tale is rather sad and dark like some modern western action thrillers such as The Yakuza (1975), or even cult eastern film, Shogun Assassin (1980), but without the gore of those masterpieces. Having stated it was hard to follow, this improves on the second viewing and is definitely a good addition to any video collection.