Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman (1971)
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda

Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman
Shin Zatoichi: Yabure! Tojin-ken!
Starring Shintaro Katsu (Ichi), Jimmy Wang Yu (Wang Kang), Watako Hamaki (Osen), Michie Terada (Oyone), Koji Nambara (Kakuzen), Toru Abe (Boss Toubei), Shinsuke Minami (Henoichi), Jun Katsumura

Toho Company/Katsu Productions, 94 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: Criterion

In the manner of Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, this chapter in the series is another attempt at a marketable crossover smash as the blind swordsman faces off against a famous box office hero -- this time going international. Our special guest star is Jimmy Wang Yu, a Chinese kung fu movie legend known for his one-armed martial artist characters. I'm no expert on kung fu movies or Hong Kong action in general, but my big favorite of those I've seen is Yu's 1976 classic Master of the Flying Guillotine, which I discovered via its influence on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1. In the same convention followed by Tange Sazen actors, Yu plays his fighting amputees with one arm conspicuously folded across his stomach under his clothes, since these were the glory days before a severed limb could be digitally erased.

Mystery Ronin: Yu's character isn't a ronin, but he's definitely a mystery thanks to language barriers. Wang Kang is a martial artist who has journeyed from China to develop his skills and meet up with an old friend, a monk named Kakuzen. An unfortunate confrontation with a lord's procession turns Wang Kang into a wanted fugitive and leads him to cross paths uneasily with Ichi. Since Wang Kang doesn't speak Japanese, language and communication difficulties become a major plot element. It's an interesting meta-cinematic experience to watch a subtitled movie that already contained another set of subtitles for its native audience.

Ichi Loves Kids: Wang Kang befriends a Chinese couple and their young son Shaolong who are working as street performers. When Shaolong is threatened with death for innocently disrupting a lord's procession, Wang Kang defends him and ends up killing nearly the whole contingent of samurai retainers, and Shaolong's parents are casualties in the melee. Ichi finds the orphaned boy and takes care of him until Wang Kang claims custody. Since Shaolong can speak some Japanese (or as Ichi puts it, understands the language when it's to his advantage), he serves as a semi-reliable interpreter between Ichi and Wang Kang.

Dice Game: Instead of dice, Ichi comes across a heads-or-tails coin toss scam operated by a blind con man called Henoichi. In his gambler's patter Henoichi claims coins can't be loaded like dice can, but then he proceeds to shamelessly cheat.

Ichi's Lady Friends: Ichi meets a sassy prostitute name Osen who takes such a liking for our hero that she offers him a night of her company free of charge. Ichi declines, but Osen doesn't give up on him. She actually pays Henoichi and his yakuza buddies to find Ichi and bring him to her bedroom, and this time he consents to some frolicking. When the yakuza thugs play peeping toms on the couple (of course, blind Henoichi is just an eavesdropping tom), Ichi gets rid of them by farting in their faces!

Ichi's Amazing Feats: In a early attempt at friendship, Ichi offers to share a rice ball with Wang Kang. The suspicious Chinese man rejects the offer with a flash of his sword, and Ichi catches half of it cleanly on his knife, saying thanks. Later Ichi interrogates a yakuza boss who refuses to answer his questions. "This ear must be deaf," Ichi says, and he cuts it clean off. Other possible influence on Tarantino right there.

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