The gentle breeze, the murmur of a babbling brook, the scent of plums...these memories call Zatoichi back to a once-loved village. But memories are deceptive and he arrives to find things much changed. The former boss, Hyoroku, has been reduced to a carver of statues of Jizo, the Buddha of Healing, and his daughter Umeno has become a hostess, and, as she describes herself "one of the bad ones". Control of the village is split between a former travelling merchant Eboshiya, and his son Masagoro. Eboshiya befriends Zatoichi, and seeks his aid against Masagoro's minder, the drunken samurai, Yojimbo "the crooked crook". When a masseur is killed, amidst rumours that a large amount of gold has been secreted in the village, the two factions begin to size each other up. It is at this point that Masagoro's younger son suddenly decides his father needs more protection and calls on the services of the contract killer Kuzuryu.
Two Dead Horses Flogging Each Other
- Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo review by Count Otto Black
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In 1961, Akira Kurosawa accidentally invented the spaghetti western with "Yojimbo" starring Toshirô Mifune, which was remade a couple of years later in Italy as "A Fistful Of Dollars". 1962 saw the creation of another iconic Japanese sword-slinger, Zatoichi the blind masseur and reluctant (not to mention highly unlikely) avenging angel, who went on to appear in far more films than Yojimbo, mainly because Shintarô Katsu, a somewhat less talented and charismatic actor than Toshirô Mifune, was willing to devote his entire career to playing one part over and over again. It was inevitable that eventually the original Man With No Name, who had ridden into the sunset after one very disappointing sequel, would return to reinvigorate the increasingly stale franchise of his biggest rival.
Unsurprisingly, the results are about as fresh as those horror movies in which two famous monsters team up because they've already done everything they possibly could on their own. The tubby middle-aged Zatoichi visits a village with exactly the same problems as every other village he's ever been to, helps out a damsel in distress, and runs into a thoroughly bored-looking Yojimbo. There's also some gold that nobody can find (though astute viewers will guess where it is fairly quickly), numerous quotes from both the Japanese and Italian versions of the first Man With No Name film, a fair bit of that unfortunate "comedy" you always get in Japanese movies, and a big fight at the end where all the loose ends are tied up, mostly by being stabbed to death. So, business as usual, then.
The trouble is, very little happens for almost an hour and a half of this two-hour film. Lots of people double-cross each other at great length, everybody has a hidden agenda except Zatoichi, whose "simple good guy" schtick was by this stage in his career looking more like mental retardation, and until about 20 minutes from the end, when they all suddenly start slaughtering each other for reasons I'd mostly lost track of by then, it's frankly tedious. Our two slightly past-it heroes indulge in surprisingly little swordplay, and their inevitable duel is perfunctory. Of course, there's never the slightest possibility that either of them might kill the other, although for some reason the "Yojimbo" who appears in this film seems to be a different person from the fellow played by the same actor in 1961.
Oh, and I should warn people who don't like subtitles that this movie has some of the worst I've ever seen! They hover in a huge black area underneath the film, which has to be shrunk to accommodate it (and the print's lousy to begin with), drawing your eyes away from the action. They're bright yellow, switching to green to indicate that a different person is speaking, or red to tell you they're shouting, in case you hadn't noticed these things for yourself. And sometimes they contain Japanese words which are translated by surtitles that pop up above the film at the same time as you're reading the subtitles below it. Horrible!