Story: The blind swordsman and masseur Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) has been called to the home of a wealthy, powerful family to provide his services. Not as a samurai of course, but as a masseuse and although he doesn’t know it yet, the family has a secret that it will do anything to keep under wraps. The family’s head is the lord and while he runs an empire, employs numerous samurais, and holds some serious power, his mind has become troubled and he now suffers from intense madness. But his affliction is not known outside of his house, as word of this ailment would cause his empire to topple and that would be tragic. So when Zatoichi discovers this situation, his life is soon in danger and in order to maintain the secret, the family sends some samurais to silence him. Zatoichi is able to overcome and escape however, taking refuge inside a local brothel and soon, he forms a bond with one of the prostitutes. At the same time however, the local gangsters are on watch for him and an old rival, a one-armed samurai seeks to settle the score with Zatoichi. With enemies on all sides, can Zatoichi battle back and manage to overcome the odds?
Entertainment Value: This second feature film in the series delivers a similar experience as the original, though with a little more action and a duration of under 80 minutes. As the first movie served as an introduction of sorts, the filmmakers were able to take this second picture right into the fray and that means more action, as well as some looks into the blind swordsman’s mysterious past. The lean toward more kinetic sequences isn’t a heavy one, but there is an uptick, perhaps due to the short runtime involved. Less screen time doesn’t equate to a rushed narrative or less than enjoyable action however, so don’t let that be a concern. The narrative takes Zatoichi into a new scenario and a new adventure, but as always, the past looms large. He is sorting out demons from his distant past and ones from the previous picture, while also working toward creating ones, as it were. So while the main plot is mostly fresh, there are some arcs that continue from the original, including several returning characters, which means it is helpful to watch the series in order, if possible. The movies are still well made enough to entertain as standalone installments, but the depth of character and emotional arcs are lost in this approach. I think this first sequel lives up to the original and continues to build the foundation of this legendary character and series.
Shintaro Katsu returns of course in the role of Zatoichi and while the material doesn’t allow for the kind of action scenes from later sequels, there is the increase in action I mentioned before. Katsu handles that added swordplay with ease and has some memorable moments in the battles. The sequences with the one-armed samurai are terrific and make for a most interesting duel, as both men have been wounded in some way, yet both remain sharp and highly dangerous. The unique circumstances allow for some creative touches and the clash is well executed, one of the film’s highlights in my opinion. But Katsu doesn’t just raise his game in the action scenes, he also sinks deeper into the character from an emotional perspective. His performance in the first movie was terrific, but he handles the drama and deeper moments with even more skill here. Despite being just the second volume, Katsu really feels at home as Zatoichi and that really fuels the entire picture, as well as the larger series. Masayo Banri returns from the previous movie, while the cast also includes Yaeko Mizutani, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Yutaka Nakamura, Shosaku Sugiyama, and Eijiro Yanagi.