Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965)
Directed by Kazuo Mori

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man
Zatoichi sakate giri
Starring Shintaro Katsu (Ichi), Kanbi Fujiyama (Hyakutaro), Eiko Taki (Yone), Masako Myojo (Chiyo), Kenjiro Ishiyama (Boss Jubei), Ryuzo Shimada (Saheiji), Koichi Mizuhara (Shimazo)

Daiei Studios, 78 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: Criterion

While locked up in jail on gambling charges, Ichi meets a yakuza cellmate named Shimazo who says he's been sentenced to death for murder and other crimes he didn't commit. Shimazo begs Ichi to contact his sworn brother Senpachi and their Boss Jubei so they can clear his name. Ichi decides to refuse this mission, partly doubting Shimazo's innocence and rightly noting that he always ends up in trouble when he tries to do good deeds like this. But of course, Ichi ends up crossing paths with Senpachi and Jubei anyway, and it turns out the condemned man's so-called friends are the ones who framed him.

Betrayal and duplicity are the themes of this thoughtful entry in the Zatoichi series. Besides the plot against Shimazo, Ichi himself ends up getting shafted by Hyakutaro, a con man he meets at a gambling parlor. After Hyakutaro witnesses Ichi's swordplay and sees the fear and respect that Ichi's reputation commands, he gets the bright idea to impersonate Zatoichi for fun and profit. Hyakutaro hires himself out to yakuza bosses, drinks their sake and demands women, then vanishes before any fighting or hard work needs to be done. It's a lot like the scenario in the Musashi legend where Matahachi goes around claiming to be the great Sasaki Kojiro, even though he's really a horrible swordsman. The comic actor Kanbi Fujiyama pulls off a hilarious impersonation of Shintaro Katsu's blind-man facial tics and mannerisms. In due course the real Ichi gets wind of the identity theft and takes care of the situation in the most fiendishly clever way possible: by showing up as a masseur to soothe the aching muscles of the fake Zatoichi.

Dice Game: Instead of playing dice, in this movie Ichi does his gambling at the archery parlor where he meets Hyakutaro. Ichi just needs the attendant girls to tap on the swinging bullseye targets so he can hear their position, then it's loads of easy money for a blind man with a bow and arrow. "Atari! Atari! Atari!"

Ichi's Amazing Feats: In addition to the archery tricks, Ichi also lets some threatening thugs know who they're dealing with by slicing a fluttering moth out of midair. Later he does his old trick of slicing the tip of a candle off a candlestick, but this time he plans it so the candle doesn't fall apart until several minutes later when a gang of yakuza assassins attack. This movie also answers the burning question: if you want to capture and kill Zatoichi, why don't you just throw a big net over him? Turns out it's not that simple.

Ichi's Lady Friends: When Ichi has a meeting with Shimazo's "friend" Senpachi, a captive woman named Yone prevails on her old friend Ichi to get her out of there. Afterwards Ichi confesses that he can't remember her, demonstrating that he's known so many lady friends even his sharp mind can't keep track of them all. The truth is that Yone overheard how intimidated and respectful Senpachi and his men were toward this blind man and she shrewdly pretended to know him as a means of escape. When she tries to warn Ichi about all the double-dealing Senpachi and Jubei are guilty of, Ichi's ego gets uncharacteristically bruised and he tells Yone to get lost. But she turns out to be a helpful ally later on.

Ichi Loves Kids: In keeping with the theme of lies and betrayal, a young boy offers to escort a hungry Ichi to a restaurant that pays him to bring customers, and it turns out to be a clip joint extorting outrageously sums from their prey. In another, more tranquil scene, Ichi stands by the seashore contemplating the size of the ocean. He asks a passing kid if it's possible to see the other side. "The ocean doesn't have another side," the kid says.

The Zatoichi Series • Next: Zatoichi and the Chess Expert

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