“The Tale of Zatoichi” – Jason DeMoe

Masseur, gambler, swordsman extraordinaire…it seems that there is not much this classic Japanese cinematic hero cant do, even though he is blind in both eyes. This first film in a long running series of Zatoichi classics tells the tale of the blind swordsman and wandering vagabond as he travels the countryside, seeking out shelter and a warm meal. His latest stop brings him to the home of an old acquaintance, who just happens to be a prominent gang boss in the middle of a feud with a rival gang. Knowing of Zatoichi’s prowess with a sword, the gang boss decides to hire him to assist in the upcoming war.

This flick might be a bit more enjoyable if what I described above was basically all that was going on, but the 57 storylines that cram themselves uncomfortably into under two hours of film are just too much to handle in too short a time. With many different storylines involving rape, pregnancy, deadly illness, abuse, suicide, alcoholism, gambling, love, and several other topics, this film seems just a bit too convoluted for my personal taste. Also, for being such a brilliant swordsman (he tosses a candle into the air and before it lands, he has it sliced in two lengthwise, with both ends still burning), Zatoichi’s talents seem ill-used and ultimately rarely used. I understand that possibly the writers were trying to portray a message about the fact that Zat chooses not to draw his weapon as often as he could, but I longed for a bit more of the swordplay that he seems so famous for.

I have seen worse films, and although the swords in this film looked and acted a bit more like sticks that were smacking people than steel that was slicing, the battle scenes were suitable for something out of 1962. Shintaro Katsu plays his character well and does a convincing job of making me believe that Zatoichi is really who he is. I would recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of classic Japanese cinema.

Rating: ★★½☆

-Jason DeMoe

Read more of Jason’s reviews at Screen Spotlight.

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