HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
 
Newest Reviews
Morfalous, Les
Dreambuilders
Everything Went Fine
Lux AEterna
Rum Runners
Fairy and the Devil, The
Mad God
Outside the Law
I Remember Mama
Superman Unbound
Lawrence of Belgravia
House Across the Lake, The
Wonder Park
Hornsby e Rodriguez
Operation Mincemeat
5 Kung Fu Daredevil Heroes
Scoob!
Earwig
Offseason
Peau Douce, La
Double Indemnity
Na Cha and the Seven Devils
Deep Murder
Superman vs. the Elite
Adam Project, The
Osamu Tezuka's Last Mystery of the 20th Century
Horse, La
Buffaloed
Train Robbers, The
Let Sleeping Cops Lie
Abominable
Funeral, The
Burning Sea, The
Godzilla Singular Point
Ace of Aces
Innocents, The
Beast and the Magic Sword, The
Last Hard Men, The
Found Footage Phenomenon, The
Night Trap
   
 
Newest Articles
3 From Arrow Player: Sweet Sugar, Girls Nite Out and Manhattan Baby
Little Cat Feat: Stephen King's Cat's Eye on 4K UHD
La Violence: Dobermann at 25
Serious Comedy: The Wrong Arm of the Law on Blu-ray
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery and More on Blu-ray
Monster Fun: Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror on Blu-ray
State of the 70s: Play for Today Volume 3 on Blu-ray
The Movie Damned: Cursed Films II on Shudder
The Dead of Night: In Cold Blood on Blu-ray
Suave and Sophisticated: The Persuaders! Take 50 on Blu-ray
Your Rules are Really Beginning to Annoy Me: Escape from L.A. on 4K UHD
A Woman's Viewfinder: The Camera is Ours on DVD
Chaplin's Silent Pursuit: Modern Times on Blu-ray
The Ecstasy of Cosmic Boredom: Dark Star on Arrow
A Frosty Reception: South and The Great White Silence on Blu-ray
You'll Never Guess Which is Sammo: Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon on Blu-ray
Two Christopher Miles Shorts: The Six-Sided Triangle/Rhythm 'n' Greens on Blu-ray
Not So Permissive: The Lovers! on Blu-ray
Uncomfortable Truths: Three Shorts by Andrea Arnold on MUBI
The Call of Nostalgia: Ghostbusters Afterlife on Blu-ray
Moon Night - Space 1999: Super Space Theater on Blu-ray
Super Sammo: Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son on Blu-ray
Sex vs Violence: In the Realm of the Senses on Blu-ray
What's So Funny About Brit Horror? Vampira and Bloodbath at the House of Death on Arrow
Keeping the Beatles Alive: Get Back
   
 
  Zatoichi and the Chess Player Your move, blind man
Year: 1965
Director: Kenji Misumi
Stars: Shintarô Katsu, Mikio Narita, Chizu Hayashi, Kaneko Iwasaki, Gaku Yamamoto, Saburô Date, Tatsuo Endô, Takuya Fujioka, Kanae Kobayashi, Fujio Suga
Genre: Drama, Martial Arts, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: On a boat trip to Honshu Island blind swordsman Zatoichi (Shintarô Katsu) befriends Tadasu Jumonji (Mikio Narita), a ronin ('masterless samurai') highly-skilled at shogi or Japanese chess. When Ichi outwits some would-be swindlers in a game of dice, the men foolishly ambush him in a revenge attack. During the battle a little girl named Miki is accidentally injured. Thereafter a guilt-ridden Ichi resolves to help her aunt Tane (Kaneko Iwasaki), a penniless travelling musician, get the medicine she needs. Having taken a shine to the blind man, Jumonji helps out by landing him a job performing tricks at a sideshow near the Hakone hot-springs. Then a man is murdered near a temple and Ichi discovers his new friend has other more sinister interests besides chess.

As titles go Zatoichi and the Chess Expert might not hold much promise for action fans. Yet it is one of the stronger entries in Japan's longest running chanbara film series. While the Zatoichi films did not stint on the swordplay, more than their balletic violence it was star Shintarô Katsu's intense, empathetic and multi-layered performance that made the series so endlessly watchable. Zatoichi himself is perhaps the most offbeat albeit still iconic lead character in action cinema: tragicomic and introspective, affable but self-loathing, altruistic but deadly when riled. The overarching themes of the Zatoichi series centre on the dichotomy embodied by Ichi: a man who fervently believes his blindness is the physical manifestation of a curse that brings trouble to anyone he meets. Yet who conversely is also the force that restores order.

Here in Zatoichi's twelfth feature film outing chess serves as a visual metaphor both for the dueling forces that make up the world he inhabits and his own conflicted state of mind. Blind or not it is no surprise Ichi's keen analytical mind and near-supernatural skill-set are perfectly suited to the game. Nonetheless he loses his first bout to Jumonji (were the creators of Jumanji big Zatoichi fans? Hmm). The pair strike up an immediate kinship as two master swordsmen in reduced circumstances. As a wandering masseur Ichi occupies a low rung on the feudal social ladder while Jumonji is reduced to performing as a living 'whack-a-mole' street show attraction just to earn a crust. Making his film debut here actor Mikio Narita went on to portray countless scowling villains. The two warriors size each other up, analyzing each other's moral code throughout a compact but nuanced and well thought out plot. Screenwriters Daisuke Ito and Kan Shimozawa strike a host of familiar story beats but manage to spin them in fresh and unorthodox ways. Kenji Misumi, who helmed several of the most remarkable entries in the series, doles out just the right ratio of swordplay and character development while Kanji Suganuma delivers a masterclass in the use of editing to build dramatic tension.

At around the forty minute mark Zatoichi and the Chess Expert unexpectedly appears to veer off into a different plot altogether. It suddenly brings on another set of characters. Principally young lord Sasagara and his sister Kume, the latter as per martial arts movie convention a beautiful woman disguised unconvincingly as a man, who are on the run from a hired killer. In most cases this would leave the film looking rather disjointed but the script skilfully interweaves disparate strands and takes pains to ensure details introduced in the first third pay off. This includes a surprise twist that ties Tane to some earlier episodes in the series. Characteristically for this most humane of chanbara franchises the plot emphasizes Zatoichi's vulnerability. At various moments his blindness causes him to slip and fall, his gambling tricks don't always work and he often relies on the kindness of strangers. His self-loathing also comes into play as he rejects a potential love interest and, in one particularly affecting scene, is reduced to silent tears as result of a child's thank you. Music by Akira Ifukube, reminiscent of his brooding Godzilla themes.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

This review has been viewed 2304 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

 

Kenji Misumi  (1921 - 1975)

Japanese director who specialised in samurai and swordplay films. Best known for the Babycart/Lone Wolf and Cub movies from the 70s, of which he directed four - Sword of Vengeance, Babycart at the River Styx, Babycart to Hades and Babycart in the Land of Demons. Also turned in several Zatoichi movies in the 60s, such as Showdown for Zatoichi, Zatoichi Challenged and Fight, Zatoichi, Fight.

 
Review Comments (3)


Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Which star probably has psychic powers?
Laurence Fishburne
Nicolas Cage
Anya Taylor-Joy
Patrick Stewart
Sissy Spacek
Michelle Yeoh
Aubrey Plaza
Tom Cruise
Beatrice Dalle
Michael Ironside
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Darren Jones
Andrew Pragasam
Graeme Clark
Enoch Sneed
Mary Sibley
  Desbris M
  Sheila Reeves
Paul Smith
   

 

Last Updated: