As the 26th installment in a popular film series that lasted 27 years, Zatoichi is essentially a "greatest hits" compendium of all the films that preceded it. That makes it essential viewing for Zatoichi fans and anyone interested in the voluminous "source code" for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Known in Japan as Zatoichi 26 or Zatoichi '89, this lavish production was the last to star Shintaro Katsu, who originated the title role of "the Blind Swordsman" in 1962's The Tale of Zatoichi and served triple-duty as writer and director of this stylishly violent latter-day adventure. Now much older and still a wandering loner, the blind, peace-loving masseur Ichi (or, in Japanese, Zato Ichi) seeks a quiet life among the gentle people of Edo Period villages, but when he's caught in a power struggle between rival Yakuza clans, his reputation as a deadly defender of the innocent precedes him, and he's forced to fend for himself in a series of sword-wielding showdowns. Between geysers of spurting crimson, this gorgeous Zatoichi film delivers good humor and mild sentiment, although series devotees were justifiably disappointed when the familiar plot failed to advance Zatoichi's legend in a middle-aged context. Still, the action sequences are frequent and fun, and despite controversy surrounding an accidental death during the climactic battle (for which Katsu's son, playing a villain, was ultimately found not guilty), this was a fitting farewell to Katsu's involvement in the franchise, which was revived once again with the successful release of Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's Zatoichi in 2003. --Jeff Shannon
Unrated (Not Rated)
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