Kenji Misumi’s Zatoichi Challenged

Today I watched Kenji Misumi’s Zatoichi Challenged (1967)

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While staying at an inn, Zatoichi meets an ailing woman and her son and while she dies he swears to fulfill her dying wish, that her son may meet his birth father.  The father in question is an artist who has been coerced into making erotic designs for illegal ceramics, in this time the punishment for the creation of such pornographic materials was death and while Zatoichi tries to reunite father and son, an imperial agent aims to bring violent death to all involved with these crimes.

This Samurai law bringer is a great antagonist for the film, veteran Samurai actor Jushiro Konoe knows how to present himself as a dangerous individual.  There is some ambiguity to this character as he shares enemies with Zatoichi but the film’s atmosphere sets up right away that these two will be anything but allies.  Konoe’s presence has a haunting effect; as a government agent of ambiguous morality, he makes only brief appearances to foreshadow the inevitable duel.  And this great antagonist makes for a great climactic duel as he really does pose that titular challenge that can be quite elusive in these films.

It seems as though children always bring out Zatoichi’s comedic side and that is certainly true here.  This film has a unique sense of humour that feels very natural, banter does not feel forced and the light slapstick feels wholly organic.  This humour brings out the humanity of Zatoichi and establishes why he is a hero, while he may make mistakes and he may have a monstrous body count he still has a huge heart and good nature.

While this film takes a step back in terms of gore, the action is still fabulous and incredibly well choreographed.  This lack of arterial spray is probably for the best as there are many moments of levity throughout this feature.  Shintaro Katsu and Jushiro Konoe have a great rapport as actors and really elevate the drama of the finale.  Once again the Zatoichi series delivers a satisfying a beautiful trip to Edo period Japan, filled with colourful characters, humour, and drama galore, highly recommended as usual.  5/5

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