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Zatoichi kyojo tabi
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by Brian McKay

"Zatoichi, Vol. 4: The Fugitive"
4 stars

That blind Zatoichi not only gives a mean massage and wields a sword with deadly accuracy, but he's apparently quite the wrassler' too. When he enters a local wrestling match and promptly trounces his sighted opponents (who just happen to be members of the local Yakuza gang), he opens up a can of worms and a can of whoopass.

When Zatoichi (Katsu Shintaro) goes to stay at a local Inn, he inadvertently crosses paths with his old flame Otane (Masayo Banri). Poor Tane (as he affectionately calls her) hasn't exactly fared well in the man department. After her marriage to the carpenter didn't work out, she ended up with a drunken and surly ronin named Tanakura (Junichiro Narita). Tanakura has a quick temper, and an even quicker Katana draw - which he displays on Zatoichi's tea cup, neatly severing it in two. Not to be topped, Zatoichi responds with an even greater display of prowess, chopping the sake' flask of a bystander in half, while it's still in the man's hand.

Their pride still wounded by Zatoichi's victory in the wrestling ring, the Yakuza hire Tanakura to kill Zatoichi. Learning of his wife's love for Zatoichi, Tanakura uses Tane to lure Zatoichi to an abandoned house, where Tanakura and the Yakuza lay in wait. Sadly, the hapless pawn Otane ends up paying the ultimate price for her unwitting participation in the deception.

Although there is a dearth of action in the first two acts, the final showdown at the abandoned house is exciting stuff, and has some of the best sword choreography in the series to date. The bittersweet reunion between Zatoichi and Otane is also a nice touch, and one really can't help but feel bad for the poor girl. Like the tragic character of Otsu in the Musashi Miyamoto trilogy (starring Toshiro Mifune'), she constantly crosses paths with the object of her affection, but is never able to connect with him because of his struggle with his own inner demons. As usual, Katsu displays a wide range of emotions, from his childlike enthusiasm in the wrestling match to the stone-cold determination of a killer in his final battle with Tanakura and his gang.

The character of Otane, as well as the presence of actress Masayo Banri, will be missed. But then, it's not like Ichi was ever going to settle down and live a respectable life. Not with over twenty films and hundreds of bad guys left to tackle.

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originally posted: 06/07/03 06:32:30
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  10-Aug-1963 (NR)



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