As I continue to work my way through the Zatoichi films, I am reminded of our current film heroes like Batman and Daredevil. Ichi is very much like them except for the fact that he isn’t wealthy. He’s essentially homeless, wandering the countryside wanting little more than a peaceful existence. So far in the series, he hasn’t sought out trouble, but had it thrust upon him. In Zatoichi’s Revenge (1965), the tenth film in the series, he’s confronted with such monstrous acts that he has little choice but to go after the bad guys as only he can.
Z10 really does ramp up the severity of the offenses committed by the villains. Ichi decides to visit his old massage teacher and stumbles into a situation where the local indendant is blackmailing families with false debts in order to force their female children into prostitution at his brothel. The scenes at the brothel where the daughter of Ichi’s teacher is being held are difficult to watch. The young girl is locked up, beaten, and starved with little concern for her well being beyond her ability to bring in cash from old men who have a taste for the virginal. Even in Japan, where prostitution was often acceptable (do not confuse geishas with prostitutes despite the conventional wisdom in the West that says otherwise) these extremes are undeniably cruel.
Not to fear – Ichi is well aware of what’s going on and, with the aid of a dice dealer and his young daughter, he digs in his heels and rids the village of the roaches at the top of the ladder. Along the way, he also rids the village of almost every man with a sword. You have to wonder how these places survive with most of the bread winners dying at Ichi’s hand. During the last fight in this movie I counted over forty deaths!
Director Akira Inoue tries to give the film a distinct style similar to the installments directed by Kazuo Ikehiro, but he’s not up to the task. His “style” just seems like an odd series of shots that are out of place in an otherwise basic presentation. It’s clear that the Westerns of the sixties were an influence, as evidenced by the Spanish guitar score that would be more at home in a Sergio Leone film. It’s curious that Kurosawa’s Yojimbo inspired Fistful of Dollars and then Fistful inspired these films in return.
This is another solid entry in the series, with good performances all around and a compelling story. Visually, it’s not up to the level of Ikehiro’s entries, but the script makes up for that lack by giving us some new characters that are easy to love and/or hate. The dice dealer, Denroku the Weasel, played by Norihei Miki, is especially fun to watch. So much so that I wish he and his daughter could have accompanied Ichi beyond this one film. He would have made a great Robin for Shintaro Katsu’s Batman.