April 14th, 2014

ADVENTURES OF ZATOICHI (1964) ***

Zatoichi movie number nine finds the Blind Swordsman (Shintaro Katsu) delivering a message to a girl named Osen (Eiko Taki) at a crowded inn. She’s there to look for her father, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, the corrupt magistrate is working together with a yakuza boss to heavily tax the farmers in the town. Zatoichi learns they are the one’s responsible for Osen’s father’s death and he takes revenge on them.

The plot doesn’t have the same sort of urgency that the best entries of the Zatoichi series have. Despite this, there are plenty of good moments throughout Adventures of Zatoichi. There’s a great bit where Zatoichi “accidentally” causes some troublemakers to fall off a staircase that shows off Katsu’s knack for comedy. Katsu is also quite good in the dramatic scenes with an old drunk who may or may not be his father.

While I wouldn’t count the film among the series’ best, Adventures of Zatoichi still has all of the little moments you look forward to from a Zatoichi flick. As per usual, there is another scene where some gamblers try to cheat Zatoichi at dice. And as far as these scenes go, it’s a pretty damn good one. Zatoichi chops dice in half and hacks off his opponent’s hair.

The other displays of his swordsmanship are also quite impressive, like the scene where he cuts a child’s top in two and it keeps spinning. And of course, there’s a big showdown between the hotshot henchman who wants to test Zatoichi’s skills. The rest of the swordfights may be spread out a little too thin in this outing, but Adventures of Zatoichi still remains a solid sequel.

AKA: Blind Swordsman: The Adventures of Zatoichi. AKA: Adventures of a Blind Man.

ZATOICHI’S REVENGE (1965) ** ½

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) returns to his old stomping grounds and discovers his masseur master has been murdered. To make matters worse, Zatoichi also finds out his sensei’s virginal daughter has been kidnapped and sold to a brothel. The owner of the brothel also frames Zatoichi for murder and he must clear his name.

After the great set-up, Zatoichi’s Revenge peters out rather quickly. The swordfight that kicks off the flick is pretty good, but from then on, the action gets pretty sparse. We do get a cool scene though when Zatoichi is walking with a little girl and he kills an attacker without her ever noticing. And the finale is solid, although it’s too little, too late.

Considering the film is using the reliable clichés of revenge and rescuing young girls from sex slavery, you’d think this sequel would have more of a kick to it. However, the film never really seems to get itself in gear. It’s not bad by any means, but it is certainly a notch or two below your average Zatoichi flick.

Whenever the pacing begins to drag, Shintaro Katsu’s performance keeps you watching. In addition to his usual badass persona, he gets to display his comedic chops in the scene where he eats a bunch of hot mustard. Katsu also gets some great lines in this one too like, “You only get one life. You should guard it more carefully!”

AKA: The Blind Swordsman’s Revenge.

SAMURAI REINCARNATION (1981) ***

The shogun executes thousands of Christians and hangs their decapitated heads for all to see. A fallen samurai denounces God and resurrects some dead compatriots to aid him in his quest for revenge. Of course, the only one who can stop them is Sonny Chiba, sporting a badass eye patch, no less.

The whole movie has this weird, dreamlike aura about it. Director Kinji Fukasaku gives a cool, colorful look to the film, similar to what he did with The Green Slime. The atmospheric opening graveyard scene is pretty awesome and looks like something out of an Iron Maiden album cover. Even the simplest dialogue scene has a tinge of weirdness about it, mostly because Fukasaku’s approach is so off the wall.

In some ways, this is a detriment. I mean the rampant craziness sometimes gets in the way of the “plot”. The episodic nature of the ghostly recruitment scenes doesn’t exactly help either. And when the film switches gears and becomes more of a samurai flick than horror film, it loses a little bit of its charm.

But Fukasaku gives us so many quirky scenes of nutty samurai action and bizarre horror imagery that it’s hard to completely dislike the flick. (The scenes of the decapitated head flying around are great.) There’s also a decent amount of boobs and gore on hand too, which is always a good thing.