Directed by Kazuo Mori, written by Shozaburo Asai.
Cast: Shintaro Katsu (Zatoichi), Koichi Mizuhara (Shimazo Kitase, a man in trouble), Kanbi Fujiyama (Hyakutaro, Shimazo’s wayward son), Eiko Taki (Oyone), Ryuzo Shimada (Boss Senpachi, a weak-willed yakuza), and Kenjiro Ishiyama (Boss Jubei Araiso, a stronger-willed but more base yakuka)
Wait, wait, wait—why’s this movie start with Zatoichi getting whipped? What’s he doing in jail? What’s he being punished for, and why didn’t he just slice and dice his way out of trouble? Why do we go four minutes before we even get to the opening credits? Why, after them, do we find that Zatoichi’s in jail for “illegal” gambling, when gambling seems to be the bread-and-butter of every yakuza-run town in this series? Does director Kazuo Mori hate dice games? Or is he just sick of seeing iterations of the same game in every Zatoichi movie? If so, why set up an even more ridiculous way for Zatoichi to show off his skills, with an archery contest? And what carnie in his right mind would let a blind man have a bow and arrow, no matter how much the dude’s willing to bet? And why am I still amazed that Zatoichi hits target after target, given what I’ve seen in the previous ten movies?
Why is Mori so obsessed with water? Why carry over all this water imagery from his last Zatoichi outing? Why are lapping waves and crests of water serving as transitional shots for so much of this movie? Does Mori think they’ll make his cuts any less abrupt?
Speaking of abruptness, was this movie way too long, forcing editor Toshio Taniguchi to just start chopping anywhere he could? (Had Taniguchi and Mori just seen Godard’s Breathless?) Why choose to cut from noise to silence so curtly that it breaks the flow of the movie’s sound design? Why set up all these elegant, motionless long takes, only to rob them of their power with these awkward cuts? Why have such a good score but then create a sound design that’s so abrasively mixed that the music gets muddied by everything else? Why take the time to establish tension with slow, nearly silent sequences, and then jolt us with overly loud sounds? Again, seriously, what’s up with all the water?
Why spend the first seven minutes of this movie showing a man (Koichi Mizuhara) unjustly imprisoned, have that man beg Zatoichi to help free him, have Zatoichi spend the rest of the movie freeing him, and then not even bother to show the man’s release? Why introduce the man’s wife and daughter in a tense long-take scene so late in the movie, and then never bother to show them again? Why have Zatoichi promise to wait for a woman (Eiko Taki), and then immediately jump to him walking away? Why not have him wait, seeing as she’s helped him tremendously and proven herself to be clever and able to keep up with him? Why not have him wait, when she looks like this?
Since the plot was obviously so convoluted that the crew couldn’t keep up with it (or too simplistic that they couldn’t be bothered), why didn’t they instead make a buddy comedy between Zatoichi and his impostor?
Why not folllow through that fascinating thread of someone pretending to be the blind swordsman, since the guy playing the impostor (Kanbi Fujiyama) is so damn funny and so dead-on?
Why is it that it’s only now, eleven movies in, that Daiei Studio realized that Zatoichi was popular enough to inspire parodies?
Why is this movie so needlessly oblique and open-ended? Why does it raise so many questions—technical and narratively—when it’s at heart such a simple movie? And why, despite all this opacity all my questions, did I end up liking this movie so much?