The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

tale of zatoichi poster 1962 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

First in a series of interesting movies

Not extremely distinctive in this outing

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Tale of Zatoichi

Studio: Dai See

Genre(s): Martial Arts/Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): April 18, 1962

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

tale of zatoichi miki hirate ichi shintaro katsu shigeru

I know we are supposed to be mortal enemies, Miki Hirate…but you’d tell me if this scarf made me look ridiculous…right?

Sukegoro (Eijiro Yanagi) and Shigezo (Ryuzo Shimada) are at war.  Shigezo has hired a ronin named Miki Hirate (Shigeru Amachi) while Sukegoro has brought in a blind samurai named Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu).  As Sukegoro and Shigezo await for the battle to erupt, Zatoichi gets to know the town and Miki Hirate who is suffering from his own illness.  The battle is coming and can Ichi and Hirate face off as planned, or will the corruption of Shigezo and Sukegoro prevent the war between the honored warriors?

Directed by Kenji Misumi, The Tale of Zatoichi (座頭市物語 or Zatōichi monogatari) is a samurai action-drama film.  Based on Zatoichi stories by Kan Shimozawa, the film was first in a series of movies based on the character of Zatoichi:  The Blind Samurai.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film as part of their Zatoichi: The Blind Samurai boxset (Criterion #679).

I went into Zatoichi rather blind (bad pun).  I hadn’t seen any of the film, but I have a love of samurai pictures and the long, distinguished career of the character said to me that it would be something I’d like.  While it doesn’t have the flash and gore of something like Lone Wolf and Cub, the film is a good start on a long run.

tale of zatoichi forest ambush shintaro katsu

Can’t a blind guy go for a walk in the forest at night without being attacked?

The movie is good but it also seems rather standard fare at this point.  The Zatoichi character has a lot of mystery to him (was he always blind? who trained him? why did he work what is considered a lowly job as a masseur?), and that is a compelling reason to keep watching the series for insights into the character.  In many ways, the story is rather standard fare in the vein of something like Yojimbo with two warring yakuza parties and two warriors caught in the middle.  Subplots involving some of the people from the village and a potential romance for Zatoichi with Otane (Masayo Banri) keep the film from being a complete action movie and place it is an action-drama hybrid.

Shintaro Katsu takes a little getting used to as Zatoichi.  The sighted actor’s take on blindness involves a strange hunched walk, and his fighting style that likewise seems like he remains low to the ground for balance.  He faces off against the more colorful Shigeru Amachi as Miki Hirate, but the character (who is suffering from tuberculosis) doesn’t get as much development as it seems he could.

tale of zatoichi miki hirate ichi battle shintaro katsu shigeru amachi

Death with honor?

Visually, samurai films from the period almost always seem good.  Even with sometimes limited budgets, the style of the filmmaker often takes an unusual framing versus something that would be seen in an American film at the time.  The Tale of Zatoichi falls into this category with some nice cinematography surrounding the story.

The Tale of Zatoichi feels like the first step in a journey even if when it was released, that wasn’t necessarily the case.  Many stories base their telling around the idea of a wandering samurai, and the Zatoichi series picks an interesting character to develop for its lead.  Bring on more movies!  The Tale of Zatoichi was followed by The Tale of Zatoichi Continues in 1962.

Followed By:

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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