Monday, January 16, 2006

Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

Star/producer Shintaro Katsu took over the directing duties in an attempt to right the faltering series, and while the results may not be much better than most of the other entries of this period, it's at least darker. Katsu at this time was not only playing out the last of the Zatoichi films but was also producing the Lone Wolf and Cub series, and some of those film's grim fatalism seeps into Ichi's universe here. For much of the film, Zatoichi is relegated to the sidelines as he's paralyzed by guilt over an opening death and consumed with the desire to buy out a prositute's contract. He's shown as a flawed figure rather than a superhero -- Ichi has always been cast as an outsider, but Katsu amplifies that to where it defines Ichi's being. The problem with this approach is that, while interesting, it also robs the film of any kind of center, and the extreme lack of focus kills this. It's a strange and fascinating watch, filled with dark ironies (contrast the fate of the prostitute with that of the young girl and her brother, the real innocents); too bad that the darkest irony of all was Katsu's inability to save the series that saved him.

Grade: C+


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