Salt of the earth, wily, dutiful, sharp, Zatoichi is a beloved character in classic Japanese film. After watching Zatoichi at Large, I learned that there are 27 films with this blind swordsman, who’s blind as the hero. I decided to start at the beginning with Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (1962).
Zatoichi arrives in a village looking for Sukegoro, a yakuza boss whose path he crossed. Before he meet with the boss, Zatoichi cleverly exploits the yakuza who are certain they can outwit this blind man, who asks if he can join their dice game. The wanderer wins a tidy sum, angering his opponents. Sukegoro is miffed when Zatoichi refuses to display his swords play to entertain the men, but the boss shrugs off the disappointment because he’s sure he can use his guest to beat his rival Shigezo’s gang and expand his own territory.
Shigezo’s top swordsman Hirate is masterful, but suffering from TB.
Unaware of Sukegoro’s plan, Zatoichi enjoys the hospitality and a good massage. He gets the lay of the land and impresses a gangster’s sister, Otani. While fishing he meets Hirate and they size each other up. Both respect each other’s traditional values.
In the subplot, Otani, a beauty, who’s married to a gangster, tries to get her brother to marry her friend who’s pregnant with is child. The brother’s an overgrown adolescent and refuses, which results in tragedy. When Zatoichi visits her father’s pub, Otani is impressed with his humility and goodness. She comes to decide she’d rather face the public judgment and run off with the blind swordsman.
Misunderstanding causes the climatic fighting to break out. Hirate’s TB’s gotten worse and a yakuza plan to shoot Zatoichi. The audience is treated to swordsmanship and action of the first order.
At times the film’s formulaic, but the hero’s sympathetic and clever. Sure he cheats and takes advantage, but only of those planning to use him. Thumbs up.