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Zatoichi Kessho-Tabi
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by Brian McKay

"Zatoichi #8: Fight, Zatoichi. Fight!"
5 stars

Probably the easiest and most surefire way a film can wrest a collective "Awwwwww" from its audience is to use a cute baby. By the same token, the "child in peril" plot device is one of the cheapest and easiest (but undeniably effective) ways to suck an audience in. It's a premise that is used to full effect on the blind swordsman's character as well.

While traveling in a hired palanquin, he comes across a young mother carrying an infant. After she collapses in the road from an illness, he graciously offers to let her ride in his palanquin - unaware that he is being stalked by a group of Yakuza assassins. Equally unaware that their target has given up his ride to the young woman, they attack, thrusting their swords inside and killing the mother. Realizing their mistake, they flee, only for Zatoichi to find the slain woman moments after, her infant still alive and unharmed.

After the identity and location of the woman's husband are discerned, Zatoichi decides to make a long journey to return the child to its surviving parent. Along the way, he is continuously pursued by the gang of assassins, who seem to add henchmen to their numbers faster than Ichi can cut them down. As he has the duties of both father and mother thrust upon him, he inevitably becomes attached to the child, with the thought of having to eventually relinquish the baby growing increasingly daunting.

And of course, it wouldn't be a Zatoichi film if he didn't end up in the company of an attractive woman - this time in the form of a petty criminal and pickpocket (played by Hizuro Takachiho) who Ichi rescues from an angry Samurai. She offers to accompany Ichi and help him with the baby - scheming at first to rob him at the earliest opportunity. But she soon grows equally attached to the child, vowing to give up her life of crime for the child's sake and begging Ichi not to give him back. Things become further complicated when the child's father lies to Ichi, disavowing any claim to the child or his dead wife. When the father ends up in cahoots with the assassins pursuing Zatoichi, the blind swordsman is able to kill two birds (or about 30 men) with one katana.

Once again, the series smoothly blends its comedic and dramatic elements. There are some truly funny gags involving baby piss and Ichi's attempts to silence the crying child by "breast feeding" it. His shushed exhortations to his enemies to die quietly, so as to not wake the baby, are also hilarious. But there is also a much deeper emotional side of Ichi's character that has been rarely glimpsed to date, and one can't help but feel his anguish as he must reconcile his desire to keep the baby with the realization that he must give it a good home - something he himself can never do with his lifestyle of a wandering fugitive. It's a dramatic notion we've seen a thousand times, but while it tends to be cloying and manipulative when handled by a lesser actor, it truly inspires pathos in the hands of someone of Katsu Shintaro's caliber. Hizuro Takachiho also gives a touching performance as the jaded and conniving criminal who undergoes a genuine change of heart.

And let us not forget the most important thing - swordfights, swordfights, and more swordfights. The action sequences have returned to their mostly bloodless style, after some experimentation in earlier films with the ubiquitous neon-red jugular spray. But the coreography itself remains as crisp and lightning-fast as usual. And, as to be expected, their are some amazing feats of swordmanship on inanimate targets as well (the way in which he exposes a rigged game of dice is rewind-button worthy).

FIGHT, ZATOICHI FIGHT is another excellent installment of the series, and another fine achievment in the prolific career of the late, great Shintaro Katsu. Whether you like bad-ass sword fights or cute babies, there's something for everyone here.

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originally posted: 02/24/04 06:53:20
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  17-Oct-1964 (NR)



Directed by
  Kenji Misumi

Written by
  Seiji Hoshikawa

  Shintarô Katsu
  Nobuo Kaneko

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