Zatôichi (Shintarô Katsu), the blind swordsman and travelling masseur, has been thrown in jail for insulting a judge and while there stoically puts up with the likes of having his meals stolen and receiving lashes as punishment. While incarcerated, he meets a young samurai who looks out for him, telling Zatôichi that he is an insurgent but by the time he is released, the swordsman is more interested in meeting up with an old friend than becoming drawn into politics. However, the now elderly Zatôichi has built up a reputation over the years and while there are those glad to be helped by him, many others are interested in winning the price on his head...
Shintarô Katsu starred in twenty-five Zatôichi films during the sixties and early seventies which were wildly popular in Japan, so when it came to reviving the character, he was allowed to co-produce, direct and even help out with the script. His hero is still recognisably the same character, but also an older and more reflective man; despite this he still turns out to be invincible in his fights, which are noticeably bloodier than they were before yet this late eighties version of the character doesn't provide non-stop action.
In fact, barely fifteen minutes, if that, of the two hours running time are given over to violence as mainly the plot wanders around vaguely philosophical themes as our hero proves himself better than all those bad guys out for his head. Yes, every so often Zatôichi will be assailed by anonymous hitmen and quick as a flash draws his blade and dispatches them forthwith, but there's a sense of these sequences that verges on the perfunctory. It's as if the star was saying, yes, here are your swordfights, but let's get them over with as quickly as possible because I'm not as young as I used to be: every burst of violence ends with the swordsman crouching on the ground as if all this has taken a lot out of him.
So now not only is Zatôichi a representative of the disabled, he's a representative of senior citizens as well, and that doesn't mean he's not going to have fun, oh no. One can only imagine the director writing in his own sex scene with a foxy twentysomething lady boss just to prove he's still got it where it counts because that's what happens here. But there are non-sleazy tender moments too, as when the swordsman offers a young foster mother of a group of orphans a mirror to keep so she can see in her own reflection the face of her mother; he even saves an egg that's fallen from a nest and nurtures it until it hatches then looks after the chick - what a nice chap. In truth, the plotline gets too mixed up with any number of bosses and assassins, too many really, and although the last battle with the blind man holding his own against a whole army is undeniably memorable and a top quality send off, you'd be better off starting with one of the original series if you're new to the character. Music by Takayuki Watanabe.
[The Arrow Region 2 DVD has... no extras. Not one. But it is subtitled.]