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Zatoichi sakate giri
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by Brian McKay

"Zatoichi Vol. 11: Zatoichi and the Doomed Man"
3 stars

With the exception of one very funny Zatoichi impersonator, and one or two excellent action sequences, ZATOICHI AND THE DOOMED MAN is a surprisingly lackluster installment, due to underdeveloped characters and a truncated ending that feels as if someone edited out the film's third act using a dull katana.

Granted, these films often end rather abruptly, and they rarely reach the 90 minute mark. But with a few loose ends dangling, and at a scant running time of 70 minutes, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man feels hastily assembled and even more hastily wrapped up.

After being thrown in jail overnight for his participation in an "illegal" game of dice (which probably means that somebody forgot to pay the local constabulary their weekly kick-back), the blind swordsman makes the acquaintance of an old man who is condemned to die for crimes he claims to know nothing about. Knowing that Zatoichi will be sprung from jail the next day (after a "light" punishment of fifty lashes), the old man begs him to visit his home village and secure the testimony of two men who can prove his innocence. He also begs Zatoichi to visit his family and let them know that he is still alive - for the moment, at least.

Zatoichi reluctantly agrees, but once he is freed, he changes his mind, muttering to himself that "Every time I take up one of these quests, I get into trouble". However, events outside of his control lead to his involvement in the matter anyway, as he ends up saving the doomed man's wife and daughter from the men who helped falsely put him on death row.

One amusing consistency in this film is that it shows just how dumb the bad guys are. In the last few movies (if not all of them), there's usually a scene where the villains (a.k.a. "sword fodder") decide to mess with Zatoichi. Then when he unleashes the blade and leaves half-a-dozen of them dead on the ground, one of the others cries out "It's Zatoichi!" - like it's a big surprise. Is this guy really that hard to spot? How many blind men with cane swords do they have wandering through their village on a regular basis, anyway?

Zatoichi also gets involved with two con artists this time around. One is an attractive female who dupes him into helping her escape from a corrupt boss she owes money to. The other is an oafish man who steals Zatoichi's identity, and does a hilariously dead-on impersonation of the blind swordsman's quirky mannerisms. In fact, he can imitate Zatoichi in every way, except the one way that matters - mastery of the blade.

As expected, there are a couple of excellent action sequences, including the final extended sword brawl amongst a maze of fishing nets. But after that, the film ends in such a surprisingly abrupt manner that it feels like the filmmakers decided to wrap things up after the second act, rather than deliver the denouement. Also, with the exception of the con-man impersonator, most of the characters feel superfluous. Even the spunky con-woman with all of her potential breezes in and out of the narrative too infrequently to merit a prolonged interest, despite a few funny interactions between her and the harried Zatoichi.

While I'll still take a mediocre ZATOICHI movie from thirty years ago over a crappy Hollywood film of the present day, this one leaves the viewer with a sense of unfinished business on the narrative side, and rushed work on the production side. Worth seeing for the bright points mentioned above, but overall a forgettable entry to the series.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9275&reviewer=258
originally posted: 04/22/04 02:12:16
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USA
  18-Sep-1965 (NR)

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