New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka

New Tale of Zatoichi
Shin Zatoichi monogatari
Starring Shintaro Katsu (Zatoichi), Seizaburo Kawazu (Banno), Mikiko Tsubouchi (Yayoi), Fujio Suga (Yasuhiko), Tatsuo Endo (Innkeeper), Mieko Kondo (Innkeeper's Wife), Chitose Maki (Tame's Wife), Kanae Kobayashi (Grandma)
Music by Akira Ifukube

Daiei Studios, 91 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: Criterion

While being pursued by yakuza on a vendetta for his killing of Kanbei from the previous movie, Ichi runs across his old sensei Banno, the man who taught him how to use the sword. This is the first Zatoichi movie in color, and here the series starts to settle into its identity and find its distinctive pace and tone that will thrive for so many years ahead.

Mystery Ronin: Played masterfully by familiar character actor Seizaburo Kawazu, the sword master Banno fills the role of the mystery ronin. The roots of his teacher-student relationship with Ichi and how he so brilliantly taught a blind man are issues that go unexplained, anyway. Ichi definitely didn't learn his kind and compassionate humanism from his old sensei, since Banno is pretty much of a bastard. Though he's proud of Ichi's skills, Banno makes it plain that he considers any blind masseur dirt compared to himself as a samurai. Ichi is more of a trained performing dog to him than a peer. Since he and Ichi last met, Banno has become connected with the thuggish Tengu clan (a historical militia group also seen in other chambara like Satsuo Yamamoto's Blood End), which sets the sensei and pupil in opposition for the climactic showdown.

Ichi's Amazing Feats: To demonstrate his skills for Banno's dojo, Ichi sits in the center of four candlesticks and slices off the burning tips in a swirling fury. "Here's a man who can't see, but still learned such techniques," Banno proclaims to his stunned pupils. "You, who can see, what do you have to say for yourselves?" They respond, "We are ashamed."

Ichi's Lady Friends: Banno is planing an arranged marriage for his beautiful 18-year-old sister Yayoi, though she is not interested in cooperating. Yayoi has fond memories of Ichi being around when she was growing up and takes a fancy to him. When she asks Ichi out of the blue to take her as his wife, Ichi surprisingly agrees, despite his usual protests of not being worthy of a woman's love. And Banno forcefully agrees that his sister needs to do better, dismissing his former student as being lower than dirt when he's outraged over their engagement plans.

Dice Game: We don't get a gambling den scene, but there is a unusual one-on-one dice game with desperately high stakes. Just after Ichi accepts Yayoi's proposal and agrees to give up his violent criminal ways for her, Kanbei's brother Yasuhiko arrives to take his vengeance. Ichi meekly lays down his sword before Yasuhiko and begs for his life so that he can be married and live a clean life. The yakuza agrees to let a roll of the dice decide Ichi's fate. If Ichi wins, Yasuhiko will forgive him. If Yasuhiko wins, he gets to chop off Ichi's arm at the shoulder.

Musical Interludes: In the opening of the movie Ichi meets up with an old friend, Tame, who was once prosperous but now earns a living as a traveling musician. They stop at an inn and Ichi borrows Tame's shamisen, the traditional Japanese banjo-like instrument, and he performs a song about the lowly life of a blind masseur. This marks the first of many opportunities in the Zatoichi series for Shintaro Katsu to showcase his talents in singing and playing music. Since the plotline with Tame is dropped as soon as Banno shows up, it seems like this scene was written in just to give Ichi an excuse to sing.

Ichi Loves Kids: On the road Ichi runs across a group of kids who sing a playfully mocking rhyme about a masseur, with lyrics describing him as bald and having no need for a comb. Ichi scratches his full head of hair and laughs. This must be an inside joke on the historical inaccuracy of Shintaro Katsu's hairstyle, which was shaved in the first two movies to fit the standards of his profession but has now grown out to positive bushiness. Katsu retains his long hair throughout the rest of the series with the exception of Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, when he briefly reverts to the bald anma cut.

The Zatoichi Series • Next: Zatoichi the Fugitive

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