The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

from right to left, Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi and Shigeru Amachi as Miki Hirate

from right to left, Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi and Shigeru Amachi as Miki Hirate

From the Criterion site

The epic saga of Zatoichi begins. As tensions mount between rival yakuza clans, one boss hires a formidable but ailing ronin as his clan’s muscle—while the other employs a humble, moral blind masseur named Ichi. With its lightning-fast swordplay, sleight-of-hand dice games, and codes of honor upheld and betrayed, this first chapter sets the stage for all the Zatoichi adventures to come. And Shintaro Katsu brings author Kan Shimozawa’s blind swordsman to vivid life, making the character excitingly, indelibly his own.

I first came across Zatoichi as a young adult but not the original series but in “Blind Fury” a Hollywood remake starring Rutger Hauer.  Then in my late 20’s and early 30’s I started renting them from Netflix.  It is not hard to fall in love with a character you can watch evolve over 25 movies and 100 television episodes. This isn’t like your typical Hong Kong, Korean, or even Mainland Chinese film.  It takes it’s time to get to know the people involved, learn their faults, their passions, and their overall personality.  There is only a few short fight scenes and one climactic fight at the end but it hardly matters as the story is fantastic and draws you in.

I really love this series and it has never really left me as repetitive or that feeling like you get with other series or sequels.  There is a reason it is the longest running swordsman movie series in Japan and spawning a remake in Japan and another in Hollywood.  Zatoichi (Ichi) isn’t a perfect hero, he is human, with human flaws.  It’s how he deals with them and fails, then tries again that really makes me love this character.

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Shintaro Katsu (The Hoodlum Soldier, Tenchu!) as Zatoichi.  Shintaro Katsu spent the bulk of his career playing Zatochi as well as the Hoodlum Soldier series. Zatoichi is using his fame to freeload off of Sukegorō of Iioka a minor yakuza boss.

Shigeru Amachi (The Sinners of Hell (1960), The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)) as Miki Hirate the Ronin hired by Shigezō of the Sasagawa Yakuza

Michio Minami (The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity) as Tatekichi of the Iioka Yakuza.  Tate is the brother of Tane

Masayo Banri (Zatoichi the Fugitive, Zoku Zatôichi monogatari)  as Otane the sister of Tate.  Masayo Banri reprises her role as Tate in two other Zatoichi movies.

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