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Zatoichi senryo-kubi
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by Brian McKay

"Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 6 - Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold"
5 stars

SCREENED . . . ON MY DVD PLAYER . . . AT HOME! While the lucky bastards up at Sundance this year are getting a crack at Beat Takeshi's new ZATOICHI remake, I have to settle for a DVD from the original series. But hey, I'm not complaining!

What can 1000 pieces of Gold buy? A whole lotta trouble, and even more ass-whooping. The immortal Katsu Shintaro reprises his role as the wandering blind swordsman, and real-life brother Wakayama Tomisaburo of LONE WOLF AND CUB fame drops in as a scar-faced and whip-wielding villain.

Once again we find Zatoichi wandering into a new town. And once again, the poor bastard manages to get into trouble before the sun goes down.

Zatoichi arrives at a village as a festival is taking place, with lots of drinking and beating of drums. He learns that the local peasants are very happy because they've finally managed to scrape together the Senryo (One thousand gold pieces) they needed to pay off their back taxes and get the local nobleman's tax collectors off of their collective ass. They invite the blind man to join them for a few shots of sake' and a turn on beating the skins, and he takes them up on their offer in one of the most lighthearted and enjoyable moments of the series to date.

But trouble isn't far behind. As the festival is going on back in the village, a detachment of peasant guards are escorting the chest full of gold to the tax office - conveniently marked with a banner that says "TAX PAYMENT". One could argue that anyone putting up a banner like that deserves to be robbed, since it may as well say "YO, ROBBERS, COME ON DOWN AND STEAL OUR SHIT!" . . . but back on topic.

When the villagers learn that the tax payment has been stolen by a group of Ronin who are led by a particularly nasty whip-cracking villain named Jushiro (Wakayama Tomisaburo), the celebration quickly turns into an angry mob. Since Zatoichi is the new guy in town, they figure he must be in on it. They also have a hard time believing he's really blind - which is understandable since the motherfucker seems to have eyes in the back of his head the instant someone reaches for the hilt of their sword . . . but I digress.

But Zatoichi's one of the good guys. We know this because he can kill three men before they can even get their swords out of the scabbard, yet he allows the unarmed rabble to beat the shit out of him and otherwise abuse his person and good name. Why? Because he understands that their misdirected anger is the result of their terror in the face of dire consequences, once their Daimyo (fuedal lord) finds out that the check is no longer in the mail. Once they've finished using him as a punching bag, he convinces them to give him a day to find out who is really behind the theft and get their money back.

After not having seen a Zatoichi film for several months, this was a fresh reminder of why these movies are so great. This volume of the series lightens the body count, but raises the gore factor and, more importantly, the character development. Shintaro Katsu's transformation from the seemingly humble and harmless blind man, to the lightning-bladed killing machine, is always a wonder to behold, and the final showdown between him and real-life brother Wakayama Tomisaburo (who also showed up as Zatoichi's long-lost and embittered brother in Volume 2 of the series) is short, but no less sweet. Though often a tad overacted, several of the dramatic flourishes remain poignant. And as usual, there is a stunning display of swordsmanship involving something being cut in half in mid-air (so far they've used candles, teacups, flasks of sake', and now gold pieces).

Hopefully with the recent remake now washing up on U.S. shores, interest in the original series (which is becoming increasingly availiable on DVD) will be peaked. Although Beat Takeshi is one of the most prominent and enjoyable actors in Japanese cinema today, I don't know if even he will ever be able to overshadow Shintaro Katsu's charismatic presence and sheer physical skill with the blade. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, I applaud HVE (Home Vision Entertainment) for the recent re-release of this series on DVD. Keep 'em coming. Oh, and the first two episodes of LONE WOLF AND CUB are finally out on DVD as well. (Bloody) Good Times!

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originally posted: 01/18/04 07:18:10
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  14-Mar-1964 (NR)



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