New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)
With the third installment of the Zatoichi series, we gain a new insight into the enigmatic masseur, and learn much of his past. Released this past October by HVE, New Tale of Zatoichi brings our hero back to his old stomping grounds where he finds that he cannot escape the ghosts of his past, even as new threats arise.
Like most of the films in the series, New Tale of Zatoichi opens with the blind swordsman embroiled in trouble demanding his lighting-quick skills. Of course, Zatoichi regrets the necessity of the fight, since his past sins are once again rearing their ugly heads. Though victorious, Zatoichi is deeply troubled. Will he ever be free of his past?
Apparently not. Soon afterwards, Zatoichi encounters a childhood friend on the road. Discovering that his old friend, a destitute shamisen player, has fallen on hard times, Zatoichi warmly offers him money to keep him company at a nearby inn. This leads to an entertaining sequence in which Shintaro Katsu is allowed to show off his real-life musical skills, as he regales the inn patrons with a self-mocking shamisen tune about his plight as a blind masseuse.
Of course, it’s not long before trouble appears. A group of thieves break into the inn and demand everyone’s money, but not before Zatoichi’s friend spots a unique tattoo of dice on one of the men’s hands. Knowing this to be the mark of a gambler, Zatoichi heads to the local Yakuza household and demands the traveler’s money.
Zatoichi and his friend part ways after this exciting preamble, each promising the other to become a better person the next time they meet. This is all a set-up for the film’s second act, in which Zatoichi encounters his
old sensei, Banno. While Zatoichi is glad to see his old teacher, who taught him to overcome his blindness, he is also somewhat ashamed at the uses to which he has put his skills, namely becoming a gambler and Yakuza.
Much has transpired since Zatoichi left, however, and he soon finds himself once again at odds with his past.