Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting: Zatoichi the Outlaw

This was the first Zatoichi film produced by Shintarô Katsu’s production company and it’s trying a little too hard to be a blind swordsman epic. The storyline is more complex than normal and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, all of whom have a significant part to play.

As is the norm for the series, Zatoichi comes into a town and sorts things out before going on his way. This time he leaves the workers with a benevolent boss (having killed the previous one) and a sword-less samurai looking out for their wellbeing. Or so he thinks. Months later he returns to find the boss was not as benevolent as he appeared and the sword-less samurai has been taken prisoner for trying to organize the workers (and inciting them to give up gambling and whoring and get to work in the fields). Of course Zatoichi puts things right, or as right as he can given some of the characters have already died, slicing up the bad guys before once again leaving town.

Zatoichi the Outlaw has all the things that have become familiar through the series, and I do mean all. The film feels like a compilation, sort of a Zatoichi’s greatest hits. We get the decent woman forced into prostitution, the noble samurai looking to make up for past deeds, the evil boss (in fact more than one), the crooked gambling den, and of course Zatoichi’s usual tricks, one of which starts the film, as he’s challenged to hit a target with a bow and arrow but asks for a smaller target first.

Apart from the sprawling nature of the story there’s something else that sets this apart from the rest of the series – the blood. Previous Zatoichi films had been pretty bloodless affairs with the sword fights memorable for the choreography rather than spurting arteries, this time we get severed arms, severed heads and blood aplenty, and yet the fights are far less exciting than before.

I’d have to say that this is probably my least favourite Zatoichi film so far but it may improve with future viewings, as it becomes easier to keep track of who’s who. Shintarô Katsu is, as always excellent, but he gets swallowed up by the film here, seeming more like one part of an ensemble cast rather than the star of the show.

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