Zatoichi in Desperation/Review

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< Zatoichi in Desperation

Entry #24 of the long-running Zatoichi series starts off with the blind, Masseur Ichi (Shintarô Katsu) dangerously walking across a bridge that is missing many steps. On the bridge, Ichi encounters an eldery shamisen player (Naoe Fushimi) who tells him that she's going to see her daughter who works in a brothel in the beach town of Choshi. As Ichi offers the woman some money, she accidentally plunges to her death when reaching for the money. Feeling guilty for causing her death, Ichi chooses to travel to Choshi to locate her daughter named Nishikigi (Kiwako Taichi). Ichi eventually finds her and informs her of the mother's death. Nishikigi appears to care less about that news, but Ichi is persistent on having Nishikigi abandoning her prostitute ways. Nishikigi's cowardly boyfriend, Ushi (Katsuo Nakamura) isn't too fond of having Ichi around trying to persuade Nishikigi to leave the brothel and Ushi behind. Ushi lucks out by having the local yakuza boss, Mangoro (Asao Koike) to back him up in eliminating Ichi. To make matters more intriguing, Mangoro recieves word that there's a wealthy bounty put on Zatoichi. This gives Mangoro and his hooligans the chance to rise up in the respected ranks. There's also a subplot that involves a teen-aged brothel servant named Kaede (Kyoko Yoshizawa) who wishes to escape the town along with her little brother, Shinkichi (Yasuhiro Koume)


Since this franchise was nearing it's end, it was appropriate for the series to head into darker territory for a proper send-off. For the most part, Zatoichi in Desperation suceeds. Though the aformentioned subplot doesn't play heavy into the story of the film, it still provides more of the memorable moments of the movie. Both in visual beauty and in emotional depth. It was also a pleasure to see a Zatoichi movie that took place almost entirely in a breathtaking, beach locale than the standard Edo village-look that many of the other movies had. Even the background sound (Of the constantly crashing waves) seem to play a prominent role of the film. Speaking of which, Zatoichi fans are likely to be reminded of Ichi's first visit to a beach, when he hears what the ocean sounds like for the first time in his life in Zatoichi and The Doomed Man. One other nod that I appreciated was when Nishikigi brought the topic up of Ichi ever having a wife. Ichi is reluctant to give her the details, but if you've seen New Tale of Zatoichi, you know how that relationship went. So it was, once again, nice to see these nods regarding the continuity in the saga of Zatoichi. If there's one problem that I had with this movie, it's that it takes a while for the action to get going. Minor, quick scuffles are expected to be seen the early going of a Zatoichi film, but here, you really have to wait for the 50-minute mark to get your much-desired swordplay extravaganza. But what makes the action so great is that you have to witness Ichi endure the most shocking handicap he has yet to recieve prior to whipping his cane sword in action. I won't give too much away by saying what happens to him exactly, but let's just say that Sergio Corbucci's Django appeared to have a major influence on this entire sequence. I've yet to see the follow-up that ended Toho's Zatoichi-run, Zatoichi's Conspiracy, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't able to eclipse this film.

Reviewed by Laydback

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