Today I watched Kazuo Ikehiro’s Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage (1966)
While this film begins with Zatoichi setting out upon his titular pilgrimage that only lasts for so long before he gets roped into protecting another village. This time it is from the predation of a group of horse ranchers and bandits who have quite a pulpy look to them somewhat uncharacteristic for the series so far.
Another interesting twist is the attitudes of the villagers themselves, especially the meek yet sly village headman. The villagers are ambivalent and unhelpful in such a way that it provides an interesting and as yet unseen obstacle for our hero. Masao Mishima, who portrays the headman, is such a unique character and he has a significant impact on the quality of the film despite rarely being on screen.
It seems strange to say that the pulpy villains of this film are odd for the series considering it is a series about a blind man with superhuman sword fighting skills but up until this point the villains have been rather grounded. Yet it still seems fitting for the series and the way they manage to pose a credible threat to Ichi is welcome in a series with a progressively more imposing protagonist.
While this series has been continuously great in it’s imagery, I feel this episode stands out with some rather interesting visuals. Director Ikehiro takes just a pinch of expressionism to jazz up the imagery which, along with clever use of lighting, creates a rather “comic book” look for the film that really works with the pulpier elements. The film feels disjointed at times but it brings together some interesting elements which really freshen up the series. 4/5