In this the *final entry in the long running Zatoichi series released some 15 years after the previous entry we catch up with the character as he enters his twilight years. A living legend and master of the quick draw sword technique Zatocihi continues to roam the dusty tracks of Edo Period Japan. To most who pass him he is just another blind masseur. How ever though blind from the age of 2, his other senses have been heightened to near supernatural levels and this makes him not only a formidable swordsman, but also a gambler with few piers. While these skills have enabled Ichi to wander as he wished making a living from gambling and massage and safe from anyone who would underestimate his bumbling walk and lack of vision as a weakness he has also built a reputation that follows him where ever he goes.
The Zatoichi movies made their star Shintaro Katsu a household name in Japan and a cult icon abroad. This entry in the series finds him not only as the star, but also director and producer. The actor like his iconic character has by this point entered the twighlight of his own life and career. In many ways this film is almost like Katsu's love letter to the character that gave him so much. At times it's slower paced than other entries in the series feeling more like gentle world cinema (not in a bad way) than the films of the 60's and 70's but when it does get violent the ageing Katsu still manages to look, very, very impressive with a sword in his hand and the finale is fantastic.
The tale is a slightly confusing one which see's rival Yakuza gangs and a crooked officials vying for power in a time of change. Zatoichi as ever wanders into town with the intent of making a little money and keeping to himself. How ever when you’re a legend in your own lifetime things are never that easy and soon Zatoichi finds himself pulled into the chaos. How ever he also gets time to meet old friends and make new ones including a baby chick that he hatches from an egg.
Shintaro Katsu's movie is beautiful and balances the gentle with the violent perfectly; he spends a great deal of time giving you a feel for Zatoichi's world and the everyday characters that inhabit it. It's amazing that this is the 26th movie in the series; in many western franchises part 4 or 5 in a series would normally be straight to video nonsense. This is quite noticeably a very musical film (Not that they all start singing) just music and sound are used to great effect here with the only hiccup being the 80's style song used about an hour into the movie. Whether you have seen all, some or even none of the other films I would highly recommend this movie. Certainly if you saw and loved Takeshi Kitano's 2003 take on the character (Which he apparently was inspired to make to scupper the Tarantino and the Weinsteins plans to re-imagine the character) you will surly love this. This film should appeal across te board to fans of Kurosawa classics like Yojimbo (A character Zatoichi meets in an earlier film) to those that enjoyed Ryuhei Kitamura's more recent manga-in-motion Azumi.
Although not as well known in the west as he should be Zatoichi is one of the greatest characters ever to appear on screen and this film should be an essential purchase. 9/10