Story: In his swordsman lifestyle, Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) is called on to dispense lethal doses of aggression, which doesn’t often sit well inside his mind. After so much death and violence, he seeks to return to his home village, bask in some peaceful times, and perhaps even begin a new life for himself there. But even as he journeys back to the village, he is shadowed by the brother of a man he has slain, which means trouble is guaranteed. As if that wasn’t enough, Zatoichi returns home to discover his mentor Banno has been working with a ruthless band of thieves, selling his swordsman skills out to the criminals. At the current time, Banno is involved in a kidnapping scheme with the thieves, but he plans to double cross them, keeping the ransom for himself. Soon enough, Zatoichi is drawn into a conflict of his honor, his loyalty, and his sense of justice, which is only made more complicated by a pending romance. Banno’s sister Yayoi seeks to win over Zatoichi’s affections and be his bride, but he knows the potential danger that would cause her. Can even Zatoichi balance all of these problems, with both physical & emotional risks involved?
Entertainment Value: This third picture in the Zatoichi franchise stands out right from the opening credits, as the series makes the jump to color, whereas the first two movies were in black & white. I do think there is great visual potential for the samurai genre in black & white, but the shift to color has ample merits as well and I think the visuals open up here. The visual scheme might be different, but this is the same Zatoichi we’ve been adventuring with and New Tale of Zatoichi is a more than deserving continuation. The balance between elements is well executed, with a good blend of action, drama, and even some humor. I think the humor of the Zatoichi series is often overlooked or at least of less interest, but to me, it adds a lot to the pictures. I think Shintato Katsu’s great persona helps the humor succeed, but there are also sharp moments of writing that stick out. The narrative in New Tale of Zatoichi is terrific as well, a story that has some well crafted arcs and I especially love Zatoichi’s insistence on leaving his past behind, which is handled with such sincerity and emotion here. As before, this sequel weaves in new story elements and keeps our swordsman’s past close as well, so some ongoing plot threads are present as well. I do wish there was a little more action perhaps, but overall, New Tale of Zatoichi is rock solid.
If you’ve read my reviews of the previous Zaotichi films, then you know that I was impressed by Shintaro Katsu’s performances and that continues here. In truth, I’d rank this as the best of the first hree efforts and Katsu really makes the most of some bonus dramatic potential. The struggle to leave his past behind and seek out a fresh start is a theme in this series, but we get to see his first in depth, soul searching attempt in New Tale of Zatoichi. Katsu flexes his artistic chops and pulls some solid emotion from the material, to the point we can see Zatoichi making good on his desire to move on with his life. Katsu is fun to watch as always and injects some humor in some much needed spots, while handling the action scene demands with ease as well. Katsu would really dial up the action later in the series, but he is still a capable sword in this picture, without question. Seizaburo Kawazu is also quite good in this one, in a well written role that lets him show off his skills often. The cast also includes Fujio Suga, Yutaka Nakamura, Mikiko Tsubouchi, and Tatsuo Endo.