October 6, 2011

The New Tale of Zatoichi (Zatoichi 3) (1963)

Directed by Tokuzô Tanaka. Starring Shintarô Katsu ("Zatoichi"), Mikiko Tsubouchi, Seizaburô Kawazu, and Fujio Suga . Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Home Vision)
Running time: 01:31:13
Country: Japan

Going back in time from my last review, THE NEW TALE OF ZATOICHI is the third film in the series, the first to be shot in color, and the earliest film in the series that I'll be reviewing. At this rate, I don't know how much more of these ZATOICHI reviews I have in me, because I'm slowly finding out that my level of interest and enjoyment is significantly lower than when I covered the LONE WOLF AND CUB films. But, we'll see how it goes. I certainly won't be going out of my way to cover all twenty-something of them, that's for sure.

NEW TALE is an almost plotless film that follows Zatoichi as he tries to put his troubled past as a degenerate gambler and killer behind him. And I don't mean plotless in the sense that it's a bad film or that it makes little sense, but the film is more of a quick glimpse into the nomadic lifestyle of the eponymous blind swordsman, and it's a film that basically gives you a better understanding of who he is as a character and the troubles he's faced with as a result of being handicapped. There's a big emphasis on not only the mystique of Zatoichi in this film, but also his loneliness and the fact that he's constantly on his own. It's actually quite sad, especially when you see the contrast of how genuinely pleasant Zatoichi is when in the company of people he trusts and how he subsequently deals with all of that being taken away from him in some form or another.

As I said in my introductory ZATOICHI review, 'Ichi may be blind, but he's far from handicapped. The fact that he survived long enough to appear in over twenty films proves that he's one hell of a swordsman and is more than capable of handling himself, but at the same time he's a very sympathetic character because of how he carries himself. For example, in this film he always tries to avoid confrontation and take the high road. Even when faced with impending danger, he does the cowardly thing by backing away and asking for mercy (pretty much a big no-no in feudal era Japan). But, as pretty much any genre film that focuses on a character with a sketchy past has proven, trouble always has a way of finding you. Such is the case with Zatoichi, who reluctantly has to resort to his old ways to stay alive.

Like the last ZATOICHI film I watched and reviewed, this isn't the most action-packed samurai film I've ever seen, but what it lacks in excitement, it makes up for it with amazing visuals and solid acting (I have a feeling I'll be saying the same thing for every one of these movies from this point forward). Shintarô Katsu turns in a wonderful, emotional performance as Zatoichi. The film is slow and kinda boring, quite frankly, but at least this one's easier to follow in terms of plot and characters than CHEST OF GOLD, and it's also paced much better. Overall, a solid film but not as enjoyable as I'd hoped.

Score: 7


  1. Sounds cool Aaron, it feels a little harsh on the Zatoichi movies to compare them to the Lone Wolf series maybe?

  2. Aaron we like these reviews so much we're gonna get you to do all 26 of the film series plus 112 episodes of the Zatoichi TV series... Reading your review makes me wish I had unlimited funds to grab all the Home Vision DVDs (I think some volumes have gone OOP) and unlimited time to watch 'em...

    By the way Mart, I do like Zatoichi 2003 but saying that, I am a huge Kitano fan (which extends to watching Takeshi's Castle...yes, I know). A friend of mine hated the CG bloodshed, but I didn't mind it...

  3. I've seen the first 12 or so films. I thought the first two were great... they really pick up by numbers 4 and 5...

    They definitely have a more classic Japanese film feel to them then the more gritty Lone Wolf series...

    I may be biased though. As I am writing this comment, the Zatoichi posters hung in my cube are glaring at me, making sure I don't say anything bad about them...

  4. At one time the only Japanese samurai movies I liked were the LONE WOLF films. As years went by I got curious about something other than the blood and guts stuff and a buddy of mine got me psyched about the ZAT films and I quickly wondered what took me so long.

    There's a good handful of movies that are like the LW series, but the bulk of chambara movies aren't periodically punctuated with massive arterial sprays. The major attraction to the ZAT movies, at least for me, is how incredibly effective Katsu is in the role. He's so good, you honestly believe he's blind.

    The ZAT's get bloodier later in the series and the 89 movie also with Katsu has lots of gore in it. A stuntman was killed during the making of that one, too. I forget the circumstances.

    You might dig the Kitano version, Aaron, as it has a lot of spurting blood; CGI blood though. But the last scene with Kitano's Zatoichi pretty much ruined the magic of the character for me, at least for that movie.

    Really good review here, Aaron.

  5. AHND: The LONE WOLF movies are only brought up because they're my frame of reference for samurai films. I'm not very well-versed in Japanese cinema.

    Wes: Thanks for the kind words.

    Kev: Thanks for the comment and for following my blog!

    Brian: Katsu definitely carries the couple of ZATOICHI films I've seen. I'm very curious to see the Kitano version now that it's been brought up a couple of times. My interest is definitely piqued.