Thursday, February 18, 2010


Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman has been taking up a fair amount of my time lately, thanks to Hulu.

I grew up on these movies. Shintaro Katsu made this role his own, and turned these movies into his own legacy. Blending chambara and Yakuza movies into a seamless and both touching and brutal whole. 

The Blind Swordsman, or Ichi the Masseur, is a wandering gambler and sometimes masseur.  A  bakuto, a gangster and unlikely hero.  He embodies much of what makes Yakuza film great. Ichi has accepted his role in life, but he does so with dignity, grace, and without compromise. He is both a figure of rebellion, and lynchpin of justice. Which makes him classic Yakuza film goodness.

Yet, the films are chock full of the chambara, or samurai film conventions too. Tales of honor, but seen through the eyes of a wandering gambler and rapscallion.  An honorable gangster, Ichi gets into trouble, and fights his way out of it with a heavy heart. Not heavy for the fools who throw themselves at him, but for the waste of it all. 

There is the heart of the Ichi films right there. Ichi desires only to gamble, and drink, and maybe enjoy the company of the odd good time girl who finds his blend of wry humor, and self deprecation to be sessy, and somehow, trouble finds him, and those who want to use his prodigious skills with the sword. 

Shintaro Katsu played this role for years. 26 films in total. He pretty much owns the franchise. Played with a tenderness and often subtlety that Beat Takeshi's simply titled, Zatoichi, missed, it is a series of films, and even a television series that took the Blind Swordsman to adventures across Japan, and even to meet Yojimbo and the One Armed Swordman of the Shaw Brother's fame, I can't dislike the homage that Takeshi Kitano made in 2003. A big budget film, it still had the spirit of the Katsu films, of the reluctant swordsman, the gambler and wanderer. 

And, to be entirely fair, Takeshi Kitano's film has one of the best dance scene end credits of any film that I know of. 

And while Rutger Hauer may not have had Katsu's grace, I did like his Blind Fury

If you get a chance, check out what Hulu has pulled together for a collection. They are a great series of films, and a great blend of styles, fun stories, touching performances, and a huge ball of fun and joy in film making. And check out Takeshi Kitano's homage when you get a chance too. 

Me, I'm deep in The Tale of Zatoichi Contiues...


  1. Now you've done it. As if I didn't have enough ways to use my time. I'm 42 minutes into On The Road - Season 1 Episode 5. This is the one where he comes across a damsel in distress and is escorting her to Edo. I see what you mean about Shintaro Katsu. There's a woman in this episode that seems to be a very good actor, also.


  2. Katsu had 26 films to perfect that role, but damn.

    The series is one of my favorites. And watching Katsu and Toshiro Mifune together in Zatoichi meets Yojimbo is a frippin' joy.

  3. The woman I mentioned above was the one that played Hisa in the episode I watched. She was excellent in that role. I think I'll watch another one in a little bit. Any recommendations?

  4. The series that Hulu put together is great. It spans the black and white days, and moves on to the colored films--and in order.

    Wikipedia has a handy list of the films in order.

    My favorites run into Zatoichi's Vengence, Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, and Zatoichi and the Fugitives and Samaritan Zatoichi--which brings the original director back to the fold.

    You might also want to check out Zatoichi in Desperation and Zatoichi, Darkness is His Ally which are directed by Katsu.

  5. Watched all 6 videos available on Hulu. My favorites of those were the first episode, The Tale of Zatoichi, On the Road, and The New Tale of Zatoichi. Know of any other videos that are available online?

  6. There plenty of torrent sites out there. Though, they tend to stream illegally uploaded and illegally distributed material. There are sites, like that straddle the line of legality, in that they don't host material, and only act as a repository for links other folks' material. But, you use those at your own risk.