Zatoichi's Revenge (1965)
Directed by Akira Inoue

Zatoichi's Revenge
Zatoichi nidan kiri
Starring Shintaro Katsu (Ichi), Norihei Miki (Denroku the Weasel), Mikiko Tsubouchi (Sayo), Takeshi Kato (Kadokura), Sachiko Kobayashi (Tsuru), Fujio Harumoto (Intendant Isoda), Sonosuke Sawamura (Boss Tatsugoro), Gen Kimura (Inspector Odate), Saburo Date (Daikashi), Sanemon Arashi (Hikonoichi), Mayumi Kurata

Daiei Studios, 84 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: Criterion

When he decides to visit Hikonoichi, the blind masseur who trained him in his (legal) trade, Ichi discovers that his old master has just recently been murdered. Hikonoichi's daughter Sayo is now under contract at a brothel to pay off her father's debts, and she has been beaten and confined for refusing to cooperate with customers. In the course of tracking down Hikonoichi's killer and tangling with the oppressive Boss Tatsugoro and Intendant Isoda, Ichi befriends a dice handler called Denroku the Weasel who becomes an unlikely ally.

Ichi's Lady Friends: Sayo has fond memories of Ichi from her childhood, and he behaves like a protective big brother toward her. Ichi can't immediately liberate her since she is under a legal prostitution contract, so he has to root out the circumstances behind her debt. The clock is ticking because the perverted Intendant Isoda is set on taking her virginity. Flashback sequences of Sayo and her father are shot on grainy black and white stock to create an interesting effect, like they're clips from an older movie.

Mystery Ronin: The formidable ronin Kadokura works as Boss Tatsugoro's hired muscle. It's no huge spoiler to say that he was the assassin who took out Hikonoichi, and a vengeance showdown duel between Kadokura and Ichi is mandatory. Once the bad guys ascertain that the blind masseur snooping around is Zatoichi, Kadokura's mission is to get Ichi's cane sword, as if it's the magical talisman without which he will be rendered an ordinary helpless blind man. They don't know Ichi very well, do they?

Dice Game: Denroku the Weasel is the most original and intriguing supporting character in the movie, since a dice roller and a gambler should be natural adversaries instead of palling around. Denroku capably matches wits with Ichi: when Ichi can tell from massaging the Weasel's arm that he's a sleight of hand expert, Denroku asks if Ichi also practices acupuncture, because that was a sharp jab. It's all too obvious this odd couple will have to face each other at the dice table. Kadokura is on hand to goad Ichi into wagering his cane sword against 100 ryo. Denroku is forced to cheat to make Ichi lose the roll, but Ichi slices open a sake bottle to reveal the real dice the Weasel stashed away. But Ichi understands that Denroku had no choice in the fraud and doesn't hold it against him.

Ichi Loves Kids: Ichi is charmed by Denroku's sweet 11-year-old daughter Tsuru. He gets flamed when he hears Boss Tatsugoro talking about how he could have use for Tsuru at his brothel in a few years. When Tsuru swipes Ichi's cane sword in an effort to appease the yakuza and save her father from harm, Ichi is touched by her devotion to Denroku instead of taking it as a betrayal.

Musical Interludes: Ichi reminds Sayo about a folk song about the monkeys at Sanno Shrine that she used to sing to him when she was a kid. Later Tsuru sings the same tune to Ichi, which it turns out she had learned from Sayo.

Ichi's Amazing Feats: While Tsuru sings that song to Ichi as they're walking along, a would-be assassin sneaks up behind them and Ichi silently kills him. He slides his sword back into the cane that Tsuru is holding to guide him, and she only notices that anything happened when the dead thug hits the ground. This and other slick moves by Ichi make up for his rare lack of dexterity in the movie's opening gag, when he clumsily drops his rice ball snack off the wagon he's riding.

The Zatoichi Series • Next: Zatoichi and the Doomed Man

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