Today I watched Kenji Misumi’s Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970)
In this installment of the Zatoichi franchise, our redoubtable protagonist is pitted against his greatest enemy yet, In the Yakuza underworld there is a boss of bosses who the lesser leaders pay fealty too. With so much success, the numerous Yakuza operate without fear of repudiation and the abuses they heap upon the people of the countryside invariably makes them targets of Zatoichi’s moralistic side. Along with this massive threat there is a psychotic ronin hellbent on causing Zatoichi’s death who is played by the great Tatsuya Nakadai who is essentially playing his character from The Sword of Doom.
The widespread nature of the opposition means that Zatoichi is under threat at all times and this gives the film a frantic and violent atmosphere. There is little time or space for rest in this narrative as the overboss’s plots are complex and active. The film’s score accentuates this aggresive plot beautifully with intense and melodramatic passages taking motifs from a wide variety of musical genres. This all gives the film a sense of controlled chaos, the overboss as created a machine of exploitation and larceny that Zatoichi is about to throw a wrench into.
Once again the Zatoichi series is blessed by some downright incredible cinematography, whose intensity perfectly matches the rest of the film’s. The lighting is so high contrast that the shadows seem to take on material forms, reflecting the darkness that has consumed the land. Evocative and moody imagery is dense in relevant information about the psychology of different characters and the invisible strings tying everything back to the overboss.
This is one of the darker films in the series and it is all the more memorable and better for it. With a truly devious antagonist we get to see Zatoichi really get put under pressure and his reactions reveal new depths to his character. This is definitely a highlight of a series already overflowing with high quality entries, thankfully you can really jump in anywhere in the series. From the evocative imagery and soundtrack to the universally standout performances, this is a film that fully demonstrates the power of Chanbara Cinema. 5/5