Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967)
Directed by Satsuo Yamamoto

Zatoichi the Outlaw
Zatoichi royaburi
Starring Shintaro Katsu (Ichi), Rentaro Mikuni (Asagoro), Ko Nishimura (Suga), Yuko Hamada (Shino), Toshiyuki Hosokawa (Nisaburo), Takuya Fujioka (Zato Sanji), Kenjiro Ishiyama (Tatsugoro), Tatsuo Endo (Boss Tomizo), Saburo Date, Jun Fujikawa, Manabu Morita

Daiei Studios/Katsu Productions, 96 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: Criterion

Zatoichi the Outlaw is the first in the series to be produced by Shintaro Katsu's own production company, Katsu Productions. It seems that the star was motivated to come out of the gate with something strikingly different to mark the evolution of the series, since this is one of the most complex and tragic of the Zatoichi films. This time Ichi is not the flawless superhero, and he has to suffer the consequences of making a number of grave mistakes.

In a town where festivities and entertainment are being outlawed by a hypocritical official, the yakuza boss Tomizo is exploiting the poor peasants' desperate addiction to gambling. Tomizo puts on a friendly front to Ichi and takes him in as a friend, plotting to exploit the fearsome reputation of Zatoichi against his rival boss, Asagoro. Ichi figures out how he's being manipulated and chooses to side with Asagoro, who appears to a champion of the weak and oppressed peasants. But once Ichi eliminates Tomizo and Asagoro takes power, he turns out to be the bigger villain.

Mystery Ronin: The benevolent ronin Ohara Shusui is the mystery ronin of this episode, but he fills the role very differently since he never draws a sword and he never turns against Ichi. Ohara has turned away from the samurai life and now serves as a sensei to the peasants, teaching them better agricultural techniques and advising them to live moral lives without gambling, drinking and whoring. When he tries to persuade Ichi against violence and killing, Ichi tries to defend himself by saying he only kills bad people -- which is proven to be a false premise. Bemused by this idealistic figure, Ichi tells Ohara he has met many bosses in his travels, but this is the first time he's known the boss of a peasant clan.

Ichi's Lady Friends: Among the villagers Ichi befriends are a young woman named Mitsu, her prospective husband Nisa, and her brother Sada. When Boss Tomizo makes his move to double-cross Ichi with a pack of assassins, Ichi inadvertently kills Sada and severs Nisu's arm, not knowing that these two acquaintances were working as Tomizo's henchmen. It's a mishap that had to happen in a Zatoichi movie at some point: considering his whirlwind-of-death fighting style, it's inevitable that at some point Ichi would mistakenly kill a friend. Mitsu is devastated by the carnage, assaulting Ichi and cursing him for being unable to see the pain and sorrow he causes. The cruel actions of Asagoro, installed as the new boss through Ichi's intervention, later seal Mitsu's tragic fate.

Musical Interludes: When Ichi first comes into the village, he finds the peasants singing a work song while the labor in the rice fields. Hearing the lyrics all about swearing off gambling, drinking and fighting, Ichi remarks at what a strange place he's stumbled into. Later on a Shintaro Katsu vocal performance appears in the score over a forlorn montage. When Ichi is on the lam after killing Boss Tomizo, a drunk and demeaning massage client demands for Ichi to play the shamisen. Ichi delivers an intense virtuoso instrumental while the rude entourage ridicules his blind servitude.

Dice Game: There's a standard-issue gambling den scene in which Ichi exposes the dice roller's fraud by slicing through the cup and both dice. That's about all there is to that.

Ichi's Amazing Feats: This downer of a story opens on a lighter note with Ichi hustling at an archery parlor. It's similar to a scene in Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, except this time Ichi requests ridiculously tiny targets to shoot at. And he nails 'em. There's also an awesome feat when Ichi is intimidating Boss Tomizo and kills a fluttering moth by spearing it into Tomizo's forehead with a toothpick from across the room.

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