Today I watched Tokuzo Tanaka’s New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)
Zatoichi returns, tired of all the violence of his past he returns to his hometown to reminisce and find peace. Pursued by those who hold grudges against him, his struggle for peace will prove more difficult than he could imagine. Zatoichi’s sword teacher comes to his aid yet this will prove to be a quarrelsome relationship as the teacher’s traditionalist and classist philosophy clashes with Zatoichi’s equitable humanist ideology.
Once again the themes of class warfare and the brutal oppression of Edo period Japan are at the forefront. Zatoichi, despite his incredible talents, is of the lowliest class, an outlaw, a murderer, and cripple. But he is also free because of how little heed most folks give him. His teacher is in some ways the opposite, his family is of samurai stock despite having fallen on hard times and he wants nothing more than to elevate his lineage. This dedication to status leads him down a path of dishonour and brutality that puts him on a collision course with Zatoichi.
This is the first film in the series shot in colour and it is jaw droppingly beautiful. The photography is so lush and dynamic, it builds mood with an incredibly diverse palette of light and imagery. From indoor scenes with harsh lighting and deep shadows, to forests filled with fog and soft, ambient lights. The film can transition between dreadful tragedy and touching moments of beauty with incredible ease.
In hindsight we know that there will be many films after this and thus we know that Zatoichi’s quest for peace will fail. This does not diminish the tragedy as it unfolds though as this is a real heart wrenching movie. The finale establishes one thing about our hero; he is an outsider and as hard as he tries to change his ways, he will always find himself driven back to the road. By the end of this film Zatoichi has reserved himself to his fate as a lone warrior righting wrongs as best he can do. 5/5