Today I watched Kazuo Mori’s Zatoichi at Large (1972)
This installment of the Zatoichi franchise sees our protagonist stumble upon a dying woman in a field. He sees that she is with child and in labour, so he helps her deliver the baby as she dies. Because his lifestyle is not conducive to child rearing, Ichi takes the babe to a nearby village to find it a family who can raise it. But, of course, the town is beset by it’s own problems as a new crew of yakuza rolls in to exploit the villagers and set up a brothel. The town had originally been safe from such influences because of the stern and honest constable, but even he cannot protect the people when organized crime comes in full force, so once again it is up to Ichi to save the town.
There is a very domestic and familial theme throughout this film, starting with the birth. Another, older child (though still a young kid) of the dying woman witnesses Zaoichi delivering his sibling but mistakes it for him killing his mother and thus follows him, throwing rocks at his head for the rest of the film. The town constable also has a son and he is a reckless scoundrel yakuza wannabe. through the course of the film the wickedness of the villains is juxtaposed with these broken families, and their quests for redemption run parallel to the town’s attempts to shake off the oppression of the yakuza.
The film goes to some dark places but is surprisingly quite a bit less action heavy than the last few episodes in the series. It focuses on the character drama and the emotions of the situation in a very strong way. There are quite a few characters all wrapped up in the plot and the way the film both develops them and jumps between their intertwined stories makes for a great small town atmosphere where everything is connected. The soundtrack runs somewhat contrary to this verisimilitude though, blending a traditional Jidaigeki score with more contemporary music in a way that just didn’t work for me most of the time.
Aside from that, this flick is classic Zatoichi and delivers all the traditional Edo period drama one should expect from this incredible series. The film delivers on the classy and emotive style of cinematography popular among films of this genre and era, using some very emotive and experimental shots to bring the world to life. The action packed finale involves some really fast and impressive choreography and the best musical moments of the film as the contemporary musical style makes way for a brutally minimalist track that increases the intensity tenfold. You don’t have to watch the whole series in order like I am and I would hope that the size of the franchise does not scare you away from checking it out, you can pick up any of these flicks and have a great time, Zatoichi at Large is thankfully no different. 4/5