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Shin Zatoichi monogatari

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 06/04/03 07:08:21

"Zatoichi: Vol. 3: New Tale of Zatoichi"
5 stars (Awesome)

The theme of the criminal who wants to give up "the life" is certainly nothing new to the gangster genre. We've seen it a million times in shows like THE GODFATHER or THE SOPRANOS, so why should the Japanese gangster flicks be any different? Still, when Zatoichi (Katsu Shintaro) decides to leave the life of the criminal behind, the results are both amusing and tragic.

The blind swordsman returns to his home village to visit his old sensei, Banno (Seizaburô Kawazu). He also encounters the brother of the late Kanbei, named Yasuhika, who is bent on avenging his brother's death - regardless of the friendship that Kanbei and Zatoichi shared.

When Zatoichi revisits his old dojo, he finds that Banno's kid sister, Yayoi (Mikiko Tsubouchi) is all grown up and of legal marrying age. Oh, and she looks hot - not that Zatoichi could tell. She is promised in marriage to the son of a wealthy Samurai family, at Banno's insistence, but does not want to go through with it.

While in town, Zatoichi makes some unpleasant discoveries about his formerly revered sensei - such as his involvement with a particularly ruthless gang of Yakuza, and a kidnapping scheme in which the victim is one of Banno's own students. Desperate to avoid the arranged marriage, Yayoi asks Zatoichi to marry her - if he can promise to give up the yakuza life. He agrees, vowing to never take up his sword again. No sooner has he made this vow, when Yasuhika shows up, trying to force the duel that Zatoichi has been avoiding. When Zatoichi drops his sword at Yasuhika's feet, throwing himself on the man's mercy, Yasuhika has a sudden change of heart and decides to forgive the blood debt. However, when an unarmed Yasuhika is later killed by Banno in a dispute, and Zatoichi learns of Banno's plan to take the ransom money and kill the kidnap victim, he has no choice but to confront Yayoi's brother with Katana in hand.

The brief and bittersweet betrothal of Zatoichi and Yayoi is an interesting new wrinkle to the series, since he usually spends his time avoiding both fights and wedding proposals (usually failing in the former, but always managing to pull off the latter). Although there appears to be some genuine attraction between the two, their whirlwind courtship is mostly born of desperation - hers to avoid being sold into a loveless marriage, and his to find a reason to leave a life of crime and bloodshed behind. It gives the character a nice depth that was lacking in the previous films, and also gives rise to one of the most entertaining courtship speeches ever filmed, as he asks Yayoi if she's sure she wants to marry him.

"I'm a bad man," he tells her. "I gamble and drink too much. I've killed - many times. And I've slept with women. A lot of women, at least fifteen or twenty. And not just any kind of women, but the kind you have to pay for".

Now, since Katsu Shintaro gives this impassioned speech nearly with tears in his eyes, it's hard to tell if he's trying to play the scene straight. All I know is that it had me rolling with laughter. However, Yayoi's response of "That was yesterday" brings a suitably poignant closure to the scene. Likewise, the juxtaposition of Yasuhika and Banno is interesting, with the seemingly ruthless thug turning out to be good-hearted, and the once respectable Sensei who called Zatoichi his best student railing against him as a "worthless cripple" when Yayoi asks permission to marry his former pupil.

In addition to greater character development and bigger, bolder fight scenes, installment number three marks the foray of the ZATOICHI series into the wonderful world of Technicolor. Okay, so there's still no blood and guts, but the fight scenes still kick ass.

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