The eighth film in the Zatoichi series doesn’t let up on the momentum that had been established up to that point. This time, the effort appears to have been on developing a more interesting story and more exciting fights, and director, Kenji Misumi, achieves both. He went on to direct some of the Lone Wolf and Cub series but I remember him fondly because he directed one of my personal fovorites, Wrath of Daimajin. His directorial style isn’t nearly as flashy as that of Kazuo Ikehiro’s Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, but he builds a solid foundation for the story and insures that the audience is never lost along the way.
This time, the blind swordsman (who, if you’ve been watching these films, has started to feel like an old friend) is being tracked by a small group of bounty hunters. They accidentally kill a woman who is travelling with her baby and Ichi decides that the incident was his fault. The bulk of the film consists of our hero’s journey to return the baby to his father while he fights off attempts on his life along the way. He eventually hires a female pickpocket to be the child’s nanny so he can more readily deal with the threats to his life, and she introduces even more worries for our friend.
I found this to be the most charming of the Zatoichi stories that I’ve seen. Ichi really grows to love the child despite the obvious difficulty a blind man might have in his position. I also found the fights to be even more inventive than in previous installments. One in particular had me actually worrying that Shintaro Katsu, who plays Ichi, was in imminent danger himself. The final fight wherein his enemies fight him with long torches is certainly not to be missed.
It’s hard to believe that the series was only three years old in 1964 when this, the eighth feature, was released. The production team must have been on a schedule more like that of a TV series for them to produce so much so quickly. Sure, the films are usually less than 90 minutes long, but they have production values comparable too most features of the time. You also have to consider that there are very few scenes that don’t feature Ichi so it would have been difficult to shoot more than one film at a time.
Unfortunately, the DVD from Home Video Entertainment is yet another failure. Scenes are often too dark and the gorgeous scenery is destroyed by too much contrast. Once again, the sound is often distorted, especially during big music cues. I’m sorry to say that this seems to be the norm with these transfers. What a disappointment.
Speaking of music, the theme music to FZF is strangely reminiscent of American westerns. I don’t think Leone’s the inspiration since Fistful of Dollars came out the very same year, but the presence of guitars in the theme is interesting. Maybe the worlds of the Japanese cinema and the American western were moving toward one another even before Leone decided to remake Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.