Jirocho Fuji Part II (a.k.a. Jirocho the Chivalrous, 1960)
Directed by Kazuo Mori

Jirocho Fuji Part II
Zoku Jirocho Fuji
Starring Kazuo Hasegawa (Jirocho), Shintaro Katsu (Ishimatsu), Raizo Ichikawa (Magistrate Yamagami), Kojiro Hongo (Shichi), Michiko Ai (Ocho), Tamao Nakamura (Okame), Mieko Kondo (Oyuki), Katsuhiko Kobayashi (Heishinoh), Yutaka Nakamura (Masukawa), Joji Tsurumi (Komasa), Naritoshi Hayashi (Onikichi), Yoshiro Kitahara (Omasa), Jun Negami (Blind Senpachi), Shunji Sakai (Priest Toryu), Juro Sasa (Kosuke), Toshie Kusunoki (Oyone)

Daiei Studios, 108 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Samurai DVD

Kazuo Mori's excellent Jirocho Fuji continues in fine form in this top-notch sequel. Shintaro Katsu's definitive performance as Ishimatsu was the standout feature of the first movie, and here Katsu gets to take the spotlight in a major way. There's not as many Ishimatsu comedy skits in this one as the character takes a more dramatic turn. In fact, the centerpiece of Jirocho Fuji Part II is the tragedy of the one-eyed swordsman's final fate. I try to avoid spoilers in my commentaries, but in this case the story of Ishimatsu's death is so well known that it's surprising whenever the character survives to the end of a Jirocho movie. Masahiro Makino's Newcomer to Shimizu even has a play-within-a-play kabuki dramatization of how Ishimatsu was killed.

Mori starts things off on a lighthearted note by introducing Shichigoro, a young wannabe yakuza who applies to become the 29th member of Jirocho's gang. At first Jirocho gently advises Shichi to go back home to his sister and live a honest life. But later, after Shichi gets on Ishimatsu's good side through flattery, Jirocho decides to bring the new guy on board. Shichi turns out to be a pretty capable fighter and comrade, although Jirocho has to discipline him for being overly impulsive. A passing priest of dubious credibility informs Shichi that his "physiognomy" indicates that he is doomed to die an early death, a prophecy that troubles the newbie for the rest of the story. Shichi seems like an unfamiliar character in the Jirocho mythos, but it turns out he has a key role to play.

Shichi runs into an old friend, a con artist named Masa, who has gotten mixed up with a gang of bad guys plotting against Jirocho. Bosses Heishinhoh and Kokuryuya, former associates of the evil Kurogoma who was killed in the first Jirocho Fuji, are conspiring to turn Jirocho's allies against him and weaken him to the point that they can wipe him out. With Masa as an informant, Shichi and Ishimatsu report to Jirocho how he's being framed against his friend Boss Bunkichi through forged letters and trickery.

In a featured cameo from the popular Raizo Ichikawa, the local magistrate Yamagami calls the bosses together for a meeting. Unsettling the bosses with his informal dress and attitude, Yamagami says he's happy to look the other way if they conduct their gangster business peacefully amongst themselves. But if they keep fighting and harming innocent people, he'll arrest them all. The bosses agree to let the magistrate mediate their disputes and everything gets cleared up between Jirocho and Bunkichi. But Heishinhoh and his buddies are plenty steamed at the humilation. Their mysterious henchman called Blind Senpachi who can do Zatoichi-style sword tricks gets sent to kill Yamagami, and Ichikawa gets a nice scene to show what a bad-ass he is.

Next we pick up with Ishimatsu, who has to go finish an assigned duty to pay courtesy calls on a number of Jirocho's associates. At an inn Ishi meets up with Okame, who says she's the sister of Oshin the Constrictor, a lady con artist who fleeced Ishi in the previous movie. Okame gets Ishi drunk and seduces him just like Oshin, but Okame doesn't steal the 200 ryo Ishi is carrying back to Jirocho. It must be love.

Ishimatsu next runs across Boss Miyakodori, a shady character who borrows Ichi's 200 ryo and gambles it away. A group of gangsters conspire with Miyakodori to ambush and kill Ishi to avenge their boss Toragoro. The fateful attack in the woods is carried out and Shintaro Katsu performs the death scene with the full theatrical glory of Sir Lawrence Olivier. The set is especially well made and photographed, filled with enough rain and water to be worthy of a Kurosawa action piece. When Ishimatsu makes his short-lived escape, the house where he seeks refuge is the home of Shichi's sister Oyuki. So it turns out that's who Shichi is: the friend who gives Ishi refuge during the intermission in his death battle. In some other versions, it's the home of Shichigoro and his wife. Here the lady of the house is his sister, and she is one brave lady. When Miyakodori and his men come to search the house for the hiding Ishi, Oyuki fearlessly stands up to them and threatens to turn them in to the magistrate. Shichi remarks that his sister is tougher than he is.

In the end, of course Jirocho has to go claim his righteous revenge. The showdown is extra awesome because Heishinhoh insists that Jirocho has to come alone. The boss of Shimizu proves that he doesn't need his 28 men with him to show why he is the man. Overall, Jirocho Fuji Part II is more sophisticated and cohesive than its precedecessor, which was wonderful but somewhat fragmented in structure. Together the two films form a satisfying epic encapsulating the main highlights of the Jirocho legend. This is definitely the best-looking of the classic Jirocho films I've seen, filled with rich, beautifully shot outdoor cinematography and exquisite sweeping movements of the camera.

The Jidai-Geki Knights