Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

I feel like I took a gamble on Zatoichi. It’s an old series whose legacy reaches far past the tale of zatoichi posteractual films, so I knew the basic premise of this blind swordsman from the ‘60s and ‘70s, even before the remake starring Beat Takeshi back in the early 2000s. I was hesitant to give the series a try, though, after struggling through six films of the seemingly similar Lone Wolf and Cub – and here was a series with twenty-five entries (and that’s just in the Criterion Collection, which sadly excludes the 1989 film also starring Shintaro Katsu, never mind the hundred-episode television show!). More or less totally unavailable in the UK, it was a moot point until Criterion brought their US collection over, and I finally rolled the dice.

Whether or not the rest of the series maintains the same level of craftsmanship is uncertain – or even unlikely – but the first film, Kenji Misumi’s The Tale of Zatoichi (1962) is a brilliant and surprisingly introspective drama rather than the schlocky martial arts exploitation film I expected. This is all the more surprising considering Misumi actually directed several of the Lone Wolf films that I disliked so intensely – and that Shintaro Katsu, who stars as the titular Zatoichi, is the younger brother of Tomisaburo Wakayama, most famous for his portrayal of Itto Ogami in Lone Wolf and Cub.

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Zatoichi-Gatsu!

Happy New Year, readers, and to kick off 2019 I present: Zatoichi-Gatsu, a terrible pun based on Criterion UK releasing the (near) complete Zatoichi Collection late last year and the Japanese word for January (ichigatsu). I’ve got twenty-five films to watch starring everyone’s favourite blind swordsman and as reviewing one a week would take us almost half the year, I’ll instead be peppering reviews throughout January as I work my way through the collection.