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Zatoichi’s Revenge – Review

by Dane Benko

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Wandering along, Zatoichi crosses Azabu bridge, passage to a small town where Master Hikonoichi trained our hero in the arts of massage some ten years ago. Zatoichi is pleased by the prospect of meeting his old master again, so reroutes there without delay.

Unfortunately Master Hikonoichi is dead. The new Boss Tatsugoro and Intendant Isoda had him killed so that they could force his daughter (and Zatoichi’s childhood friend) Sayo into prostitution. Zatoichi learns these facts upon his first sit down in the village inn, and readily investigates.

Sayo’s conscription is part of a wider fraud. Tatsugoro and Isoda collect taxes from the villagers and, rather than pay them to Edo, hide it for themselves and then conscript the villagers daughters into their whorehouse called Chojiro to ‘pay off the debt.’

Thus, it is up to Zatoichi once again to right the ills of the evil bosses.

Most Zatoichi movies involve a wider world plot and a personal plot that eventually entwine near the end of the movie, but this one mixes the social and the personal from the get go and avoids many subplots. This is because Zatoichi’s Revenge is, true to its title, a classic revenge movie.

Over the strums of Italian giallo-like music, flashbacks in stark, high contrast sepia tell back stories. In the present, even darker reality (much of Zatoichi’s Revenge is set at night, moreso than other Zatoichi movies it seems), the choreographic delight of fight scenes is sometimes replaced by more brutal, person-on-person violence, especially as regards treatment of the prostitutes of Chojiro. Also, the movie employs quite a bit of handheld camera work.

In other words, Zatoichi’s Revenge exhibits the style of movies of the era that Quentin Tarantino refers to in Kill Bill (2003). As a stylistic choice it connects Zatoichi to the audience as more of a trope than investigates his character. Which is a shame considering we now have access to more of Zatoichi’s past, especially his friendship with Sayo, who otherwise is kept locked away throughout most of the duration of the movie.

The look and the feel of Zatoichi’s Revenge sets it apart from other movies of the series in many ways, but there are also interesting new aspects to the story not included before. For instance, Zatoichi befriends a man named Denruko and his daughter Tsuru. Denruko is also known as Denruko the Fox, and he stands out in the Zatoichi library of sidekicks for the simple reason that he neither dies in betrayal or in defense of the blind swordsman. He actually turns out to hold his own in a comical relief fashion, which is far more than other Zatoichi sidekicks have managed to do, at least thus far. It’s also a surprising bit of levity considering the revenge thriller genre.

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Author: Dane Benko

Dane is an independent filmmaker and freelancer in Albuquerque, NM. Japanese cinema is a particular fascination of his.

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