Today I watched Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman (1971)
In the crossover between The Japanese Zatoichi and Hong Kong One Armed Swordsman, there is the rare meeting of two titanic genres of far east action cinema, the Chanbara and the Wuxia. Though the two styles have been highly influential of one another, they are markedly different in themes and content, so how this film highlights the often overlooked similarities is a special treat. Wang Kang, the one armed swordsman, is in Japan to visit a friend at a temple, but in protecting the son of one of his Chinese expat friends, he becomes the target of an aggressive manhunt. Zatoichi comes in as he hears rumour of a rampaging Chinese swordsman and in his goodly nature, decides to investigate the issue. Unfortunately for both of these protagonists, miscommunication and unfortunate chance leads them inevitably to blows.
Zatoichi is perhaps closer to a Wuxia protagonists than most of his Chanbara contemporaries; in many of this series’ installments his darker nature is downplayed making him more of the selfless and moralistic style of protagonist as seen in Wuxia. Meanwhile Wang Kang is a somewhat darker, more introspective figure than many of his Hong Kong peers. Much like the Chanbara protagonist, he battles his own inner demons as much as he does material ones. So the two characters end up meeting in the middle of the two respective extremes of genre cinema.
This is an action heavy film by Zatoichi standards and also quite bloody. One could say that it’s a sign of changing times as Japanese cinema became markedly bloodier and gorier, eventually leading to a stereotype and cliche of arterial spray. This heightened sense of violence often runs in contrast of the lighter and more comedic tone present in many scenes of this film, yet at the same time the over the top blood effects has it’s own humourous appeal. The choreography does a great job at blending Japanese and Chinese film combat styles, though the cinematography is pretty much all Japanese.
While it still reflects a distinctly Japanese perspective, this entry into the Zatoichi franchise offers a fascinating crossover of two of East Asia’s biggest film exports. The film is a times moody and melodramatic and at others quite funny, delivering a broadly satisfying experience.It also contains some great action that builds to a really dynamite climax that is not to be missed. 5/5