Zatoichi the Fugitive/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
With Zatoichi the Fugitive, there is a nice groove and rhythm regarding what to expect with the series. That Zatoichi is never in overt danger is clear, as surviving 25 movies confirm at least that much by now. We look forward to exactly how much or what the director and writer of each film will throw at Zatoichi—and going by this movie, that would be a lot.
We start with Zatoichi defeating multiple opponents in a bout of sumo wrestling to earn the prize money on offer. As he is resting, he is attacked by Kisuke, a yakuza out for a bounty on his head. Zatoichi quickly dispatches the young man, although he is angry at the young Yakuza for ambushing him despite being under-prepared.
His curiosity to know who set the bounty on his head while also being honor-bound to let the young man's mother know his son fought well makes him head to the village to fulfill the promise Zatoichi made to him.
At the village, he has to deal with a new set of yakuza characters who are warring with each other while also meeting with old ones. Namely O-Tane, the woman he almost settles down with in the first two movies, married to a yakuza Tanakura, a man who feels inferior to Zatoichi for his skill as a swordsman and his insecurity for Zatoichi's past with his wife.
An amusing aspect of the movie is his interaction with the slain Yakuza's mother. The woman Maki is a matriarch-like figure for the Yakuza in the region. Despite her initial anger at the man who killed her son, she is comforted because Zatoichi is an honorable man and his assurance that it was a fair fight.
Though she has made her peace with her son's death, the other Yakuza's uses it to get back at Zatoichi. The way certain people with vested interests may often do to further their agenda by blowing an issue that can be resolved swiftly out of proportion.
As with many Zatoichi movies, there are another one of the mandatory tropes where he shows his skill that makes his opponents realize that this man means serious business. Here it is a scene where he tosses a dice into a bottle of sake held by a yakuza man and then promptly splits both the bottle and the dice inside into two. It is a fun little touch that makes you curious about what version of this troupe will pop up in the subsequent entries.
The climactic battle is also one hell of a ride. You get to see Zatoichi in full-blooded raging bull mode, and it certainly does not disappoint. It is pretty unusual, as this is a man who usually keeps a cool head during his fights. Without spoiling that scene much, I would say it is one of his best fight scenes and one of those scenes where it looks like this guy is in genuine danger.
You realize that this man will certainly have a lot more adventures, but when he does his final farewell dance, like a court jester who makes people laugh while crying inside, you understand his loneliness. Both as a warrior and a man who has accepted his fate as a loner. It is undoubtedly a heartbreaking, bitter-sweet ending for the movie that makes you want to give him a warm hug and a better farewell. Until the next time we meet him, that is.