Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Jimmy Wang Yu, Cheung Yik, Wang Ling, Hama Yuko, Kagawa Masato
As the end of the Zatoichi franchise comes near, it’s obvious that the filmmakers and producers were running out of ideas to make the films unique. I mean, this is the 22nd film in the series after all. It’s understandable. So they obviously turned to gimmicks and tricks to keep things fresh. The results have been something of a roller coaster ride of quality for the films and the previous entry, Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival, was a big eclectic and entertaining mess. However, the series seemed intent on bringing in the new fresh elements and for this next entry our blind heroic swordsman is destined to meet blades with one of China’s legendary martial artists– Wang Kang, the one armed swordsman played by the iconic Jimmy Wang Yu. While it’s not quite as soul devouring as the last time Zatoichi met with another franchise character in Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman is still a massively entertaining and fast paced flick worthy of this high end franchise.
What I enjoyed best about Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman is that it is a return to form for the series by having Zatoichi be (more or less) a victim of circumstance again. He essentially has no part in the events that kick off this adventure and continually throughout the film there is a theme of assumption and miscommunication that only exasperates the growing tension and violence around the two heroes. It’s a strong and emotionally effective theme that only gathers momentum as the film continues and it consumes a plethora of characters as it snowballs. The viewer begins to feel somewhat bad for both of the heroes as they continually find themselves swimming against the current to ‘do the right thing’ and it makes the film a riveting and invested watch for its audience. It also allows the film to navigate a narrative that seems straight forward on the surface, but is remarkably dense and subtle in its execution. Whether it’s the strong slew of secondary characters or the moments where we see a new problem gestating for our heroes, the film knocks it out of the park as it unfolds – slowly – but very meticulously.