REVIEW: DVD Release: Zatoichi Meets The One Armed Swordsman

Film: Zatoichi Meets The One Armed Swordsman
Release date: 25th February 2002
Certificate: 15
Running time: 94 mins
Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Starring: Shintarô Katsu, Yu Wang, Watako Hamaki, Michie Terada, Kôji Nanbara
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy/Drama
Studio: Warrior
Format: DVD
Country: Japan/Hong Kong

A later entry in the long running Japanese series focusing on Zatoichi the blind swordsman, Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman sees the blind masseuse and swordsman forming an uneasy alliance with a skilled one armed swordsman from China. However, confusion reigns as the different languages of the two men make their relationship increasingly difficult - to the point of bloodshed.

After saving a young boy about to be executed by a group of Nambu samurai, one armed Chinese swordsman Wang Kong becomes a fugitive from the Nambu clan after slaying many of their warriors in the ensuring battle to save the boy, during which the boy’s parents are killed. Zatoichi happens on the scene of the massacre and finds the dying father of the boy, who asks the blind swordsman to take care of his child.

Zatoichi and the boy then stumble across Wang, who tries to explain what has happened, but fails due to his foreign tongue. Despite this, an uneasy alliance is formed, and Zatoichi promises to help the fellow swordsman.

Meanwhile the Nambu men overhear that Zatoichi has hidden Wang in a local house, and seek their revenge on him. Due to a misunderstanding, Wang believes that Zatoichi has sold him out for the price on his head, and leaves furiously for a local temple, where he bonds with one of the monks.

However the monk betrays Wang, and the Nambu men take the boy hostage, promising only to release him if he hands himself in. Zatoichi ends up saving Wang from the Nambu, but Wang, enraged by the perceived betrayal, and unable to understand Zatoichi’s explanation, challenges him to a battle from which only one will walk away…

The whole premise seems to be built on the gimmick that we WILL see a blind swordsman and a one armed swordsman face off. Whilst this is an enticing proposal, it is not very well carried out. Instead what we get is a very awkward excuse for them to have a fight, and the fighting they actually do doesn’t justify the extended build up. The reasoning for their rivalry is based on Zatoichi and Wang Kong’s different languages, as well as a lot of tragic misunderstandings. This ends up making for a tragic and philosophical dénouement, which is also symbolic of the difficult relations between China and Japan.

If this had been performed in a film that didn’t have such a Frankenstein’s monster of a plot, built of comedies and swordplay action films, it would have been a beautiful and more enduring twist. Instead, what actually happens is that all the limbs of the monster end up trying to run off in different directions. The actual flow of the plot feels like it’s been constructed by someone with ADHD, as threads appear for no good reason out of nowhere, and are settled in just as ham fisted a fashion. This is especially the case with Wang Kong’s relationships with the monk and Oyome, as the relationships in these cases are implied to be deep and close. However, this is without any clear evidence. Instead these plot developments are simply stated by a character, all of which seems to point to bad writing.

The outrageous humour also undermines the sense of cohesion. Sure enough the film contains some very broad Japanese humour, but this is at odds with other points in the film’s progression; where one could mistakenly get the impression they were watching far more serious fare. This also works the other way round, when it feels like the solemn action sequences are out of character with the somewhat light hearted moments. Ultimately, the film aspires to be both a successful drama and comedy but doesn’t devote enough focus upon either to make it work.

A lot of moments of pleasure are also denied to the audience. A prime example of this is that Boss Tobai of the Nambu, the film’s main antagonist, is defeated far too easily. For all the problems he has caused the main characters throughout the film, and for all the foreboding he creates, he is dealt with very abruptly before the spectacular denouement. There seems to be little build up or pomp dedicated to this, which makes his exit feel incredibly flat.

Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman does not really do the film series justice. It is not a terrible film, and its flaws are somewhat harmless, but it could have been a lot better. It’s very much the case that the little problems begin to add up and overwhelm the positives, which is a real pity. Zatoichi himself is an entertaining protagonist, and the story, if properly handled, could have been far more poignant and emotional. DJ

1 comment:

  1. not quite as good as beat takeshis film then? lol