Today I watched Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Zatoichi’s Conspiracy (1973)
Zatoichi’s Conspiracy marks the end of this franchise’s original theatrical run, the blind swordsman would not appear on the big screen again until 1989. With this final installment of the original run, Zatoichi finds himself on the road to his childhood home, but when he gets there he finds that no one recognizes him and everything has changed. Furthermore, the villages of the region are over taxed and being exploited by a nefarious merchant. The home where Zatoichi grew up has been derelict for some time and is now being inhabited by a crew of errant youths who end up being of some help to Ichi in his trials. Ichi must set a good example for these strays while also seeking justice for he oppressed peasants of the land.
As a finale for the series, this film feels like a bit of a throwback. The later films in the series had added a lot of experimental content to the formula and this film takes a step back from a lot of that. I consider this a shame considering how much love I have for the last entry, which went pretty heavy into the experimental side of things. The orchestral soundtrack is back and gone are the flashier transitions a psychedelic sequences. Perhaps it is fitting though because what is left is pure Zatoichi, a moody character drama with deep political themes and a brutal action climax.
This is a fitting swan song for the blind swordsman in that it offers more of the same, pulled off with exceptional style. Perhaps delivering this kind of audience pleasing, if by the numbers, entry is what was needed, not a bold new take on the character. The film gets back to basics and re-solidifies the foundation of the franchise, which was making the leap to the television market. Everything one can expect from typical Zatoichi is here in full force, it goes light on the action, instead building to a single devastating climax, and delivers the period drama of the series with gusto. I would have liked to have seen the film reach some of the crazier heights of it’s immediate predecessors, but what is here is still quite fantastic. 4/5