Zatoichi: Masseur Ichi and a Chest of Gold
"Beautifully photographed, well-acted, dramatically intense (for a character-driven film franchise... Bond could take a few lessons from this guy) and with just enough action to fill that void in your heart that can only be sated by the cool "shing!" sound of Zatoichi drawing his lightning-fast blade."
Zatoichi: Masseur Ichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)
Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Machiko Hasegawa, Tatsuya Ishiguro, Kenzaboro Joh, Shogo Shimada, Mikiko Tsubouchi
Running Time: 83 min.
Plot: Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman finds himself tangled up in a village's plight when he visits to pay his respect to a departed friend. It seems the townsfolk have been taxed unfairly for a long while, but recently scrounged up enough gold to pay off their crooked lord once and for all; only to have it stolen by bandits. And who would their prime suspect be? Poor old Zatoichi. Zatoichi must clear his own name and that of an old friend who he hasn't seen in years.
TheFrankEinstein's REVIEW: First things first, this is a beautifully photographed movie. Scene after scene struck me, looking like they should be hung on the wall rather than shown on the screen. From the silhouette of men against a blue sunset, to hundreds of lanterns gliding down a road at the base of a mountain, everything looked like a classic painting. Seeing how great the photography is here, I'm that much more puzzled by the lack of current wide release on either home format, VHS or DVD. Criterion, where are you on this one? The story sounds familiar, I'm sure. The wandering swordsman coming to the aide of victimized farmers. But, this being my first Zatoichi film, I have to say I enjoyed it quite a bit. The swordfights were blazingly fast and realistic, the character likeable, the story suspenseful, and the comedy effective without stooping to slapstick or the usual degrading blind jokes. Shintaro Katsu gives Zatoichi the perfect portrayal as a humble, tired man who just wants to get by in the dangerous feudal Japanese landscape that's twice as dangerous to a blind man.
I'm sure it's possible that other men have played Zatoichi in the film series, I don't know, but I really can't picture anyone else. My only complaint is sort of a non-complaint. Almost zero establishing shots or set-ups. Much of the time I was left wondering how so-and-so got here or there, and who these guys were who were fighting now, or where we were, whatever. Rather confusing to say the least, but a superior alternative to Hollywood's shoving expositions down our throats all the time, so like I said, a minor problem. What is there left to say? If you enjoy Samurai movies, then be mindful that this series (Zatoichi/Masseur Ichi) is considered a classic, and I can see why. Beautifully photographed, well-acted, dramatically intense (for a character-driven film franchise... Bond could take a few lessons from this guy) and with just enough action to fill that void in your heart that can only be sated by the cool "shing!" sound of Zatoichi drawing his lightning-fast blade.
TheFrankEinstein's RATING: 8/10