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Total Nerd The Zatoichi Films  

StephenClark
578 votes 83 voters 19.8k views

These are the original 26 Zatoichi films starring Shintaro Katsu. I also recommend picking up Tokyo Shock's release of the first season of the T.V series,"Tales of Zatoichi". There were 4 T.V seasons in all. I'm still hoping Tokyo Shock will dig up the rest someday.

Update: SamuraiDVD.com has released the entire second season of "Tales of Zatoichi" on DVD. 29 episodes in 10 volumes never seen outside of Japan. Don't know how they did this but they are my heroes. If you are a fan of this series you are required to pick these up. Cheers

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Tale Of Zatoichi is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Zatoichi Films

This first Zatoichi film is a great introduction to the character. Shintaru Katsu was a gifted actor who could bring a tremendous sympathy to Zatoichi, and yet Zatoichi was not only compassionate but also a ruthlessly skilled professional swordsman. The premise of the Zatoichi character is that he is a blind masseur who studied swordsmanship with a Sensei because he was tired of being treated with contempt and as the lowest rung on the social ladder of Japanese Culture. With a sword, at least Zatoichi could inspire respect in others, and he could defend himself against those who would beat and rob the blind.

But Zatoichi is much more than a vengeful blind man. In fact, he is usually willing to forgive and forget. He is regularly disrespected, and treated badly by those who think he is merely a blind man (who can be easily abused) and yet in spite of having developed a superior swordsmanship skill than most of his adversaries, Zatoichi is humble, and he often allows himself to be insulted rather than to foment a fight which will cause someone else's death.

You might be hoping that someone like Zatoichi were running for President or Senator (I wish); but Zatoichi is also a rascal and capable of the kind of mischief that would brand anyone politically incorrect in the current world. He also gambles and likes to drink sake in moderation. Zatoichi is too involved in life to make a good politician, but he is a great hero of the common person. He defends all women, including the ones whose honor has been soiled. He is always polite, except when he wants to punish the evil.

Zatoichi is clever, cunning, and as he likes to say "Don't think you can cheat me just because I am blind." Zatoichi turns the tables on the local Gang Lord, and he tries to avoid a fight with the rival clan's top samurai, whom Zatoichi has befriended.

In the mix is the sister of Tane. Tane is an evil would-be Samurai. Tane refuses to acknowledge that his own girlfriend is pregnant by him, and after Tane meets her by the local river "to propose marriage", his girlfriend turns up drowned the next morning. Tane is obsessed with moving up in the eyes of the Gang Lord by getting his own sister to marry the Gang Lord's brutal and spoiled son. When his sister refuses, Tane sells her to the heir, saying that he has the right to sell his own sister. The Gang Lord's son then rapes her after she tells him that she will never marry him. Truly, this first Zatoichi film had enough evil characters to keep any hero very busy. The mix of drama, tragedy, and sword-fighting is excellent.

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Zatoichi Challenged is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Ichi is staying at an inn when a woman dies. Her dying wish is that Ichi take her son to his father, an artist living in a nearby town. After arriving in the town, Ichi finds out that the father has been forced by a local boss to create illegal p*********y to pay off his gambling debts. Ichi makes it his mission to save tha man and reunite the family, even though it brings him into conflict with a samurai he sort of befriended on his way to the town Written by Scott Hamilton

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Zatoichi at Large is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu, Hisaya Morishige, Rentarō Mikuni Blind masseur and master swordsman Zatoichi finds a robbed and fatally wounded pregnant woman, whose baby he delivers before she dies. He takes the baby in search of its father and finds the child's aunt, who is about to be forced into prostitution for want of a payment the dead mother was bringing. Zatoichi determines to save the woman from her fate. Written by Jim Beaver Zatoichi at Large is a drama, action adventure film directed by Kazuo Mori.

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Zatoichi: Festival of Fire is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Zatoichi Films
'Zatoichi At The Fire Festival' was the 21st entry in the popular martial arts series that starred Shintaro Katsu as the blind swordsman Zatoichi. This time around Zatoichi (who moonlights as a masseur) is present at a geisha auction. Later that night he rescues one of the sold women but she is unexpectedly murdered by a mysterious swordsman. We soon learn that he was the dead woman's husband and that he plans on killing Zatoichi because he believes that his wife slept with him. To complicate things further Zatoichi also makes an enemy of the local boss (a common occurrence in this series!), a blind man known as "the Prince Of Darkness" (played by Masayuki Mori who co-starred in Kurosawa's samurai classic 'Rashomon'), becomes a sort of mentor to a young, effeminate wanna-be pimp Umeji (played by Peter, who later appeared in Kurosawa's 'Ran'), and also falls in love with the beautiful Okiyo (Reiko Ohara). Whew! I'm a relative newcomer to these movies but I'm really loving them. Zatoichi is a fascinating character, shy and funny, but a killing machine when need be. This is one of the best in the series, and the standout scenes are a hilarious attempted seduction of Zatoichi by Umeji, and a killer nude fight sequence in a bathhouse. If Beat Takeshi's recent (excellent) 'Zatoichi' has whetted your appetite try some of the Katsu originals. They are immensely entertaining, and I'll bet twenty bucks that Tarantino is a BIG fan.Author: Infofreak from Perth, Australia

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Zatoichi's Cane Sword is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Zatoichi comes upon the town of Tonda, overrun by gangsters. Using one of his favorite techniques, Zatoichi proceeds to win 8 ryo in a rigged gambling game. Of course, the local gangsters attempt to kill him, and the adventure begins. It turns out a blacksmith named Senzo examines Zatoichi's cane sword, and discovers it to be forged by his old mentor. Senzo discovers the sword is at the end of its usefulness and will break when it is used next.... Written by Matt Hartley (int1)

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Zatoichi the Fugitive is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind swordsman/masseur Ichi (known as Zatoichi, or "Masseur Ichi") angers a local yakuza gang when he defeats several of them in a wrestling match. When he finds that his long lost love Tane is nearby and romantically involved with a tough samurai in the employ of the gang, he remains in the village. Meanwhile, the young heir to the leadership is forced to confront his own fear and weakness when the gang insists he fight Ichi. Written by Jim Beaver

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New Tale of Zatoichi is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu Blind masseur and master swordsman, Zatoichi, is tired of killing. He journeys to his old village looking for peace, but is pursued by the brother of Boss Kanbei, a man he's killed. Back home, Ichi connects with Banno, his teacher, who seeks prestige and has arranged for his younger sister, Yayoi, to marry into a wealthy samurai family. Ichi and Yayoi realize they are in love, but Ichi's request for her hand meets with Banno's derision. Ichi is also drawn into Banno's plot to kidnap the son of a wealthy man, ostensibly to aid the Mito Goblins, a gang of thieves on the run; but Banno wants to keep the ransom. Ichi wants harmony and love, but can he escape a destiny of violence? Written by Zatoichi: Vol. 3: New Tale of Zatoichi is a 1963 action and drama film directed by Tokuzô Tanaka.

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Fight Zatoichi Fight is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind swordsman/masseuse Zatoichi befriends a young woman returning home with her baby. When gangsters mistake her for Zatoichi and kill her, Zatoichi determines to escort the baby to its father. He gains the reluctant help of a young pick pocket and together they travel to find the baby's father. But they do not reckon on the father's reaction to their arrival, nor on their own growing feelings for the child. Written by Jim Beaver

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Zatoichi and the Chess Expert is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Zatoichi makes friends with a dangerous chess player, while fending off angry yakuza and bloodthirsty relatives out for revenge, and trying to save a sick child. Meanwhile, his luck with dice is turning..

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Adventures of Zatoichi is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind swordsman/masseuse Zatoichi befriends a young woman looking for her father, a village leader who has disappeared. As he helps her investigate the disappearance, Zatoichi also becomes involved with another young woman who is trying to help her brother, who has murdered someone at about the same time and place as the missing man was last seen. Written by Jim Beaver

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Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Zatoichi Films
In the 1840s, Ichi, blind masseur and quick-draw swordsman, travels to the village of Itakura to pay his respects at the grave of Kichizo, a man he killed two years' ago. The villages in the area, after several years of famine, have struggled to raise 1,000 ryo in taxes they owe. The money is stolen while in transit to the governor. Ichi is accused as is Boss C**ji, a samurai Ichi respects. Ichi sets out to find the money and clear his own and C**ji's names. Along the way, he must face Kichizo's sister, some of C**ji's own gang, a corrupt governor, and his henchmen. Loyalties shift even as Ichi's moral compass stays true. Written by

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Zatoichi Meets the One Armed S... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Zatoichi Films
One of the more accessible films in the series due to its simpler story (two heroes ally themselves against an evil but then find themselves on different sides due to a mis-understanding). Though the Zatoichi films often vary in style and in tone, the themes (treat others as you would wish to be treated, be true to your word, gamble within your means, etc), remain constant. Here, the language barrier between Zatoichi and The One-Armed Swordsman (one is Chinese, the other Japanese), is a theme that will have had a greater resonance for its native audience rather than those in the west, but the story works well just as a straight-forward adventure yarn. Shintarô Katsu is as reliably great as ever. By turns dynamic and exacting with the sword, warm of heart with the just and needy, steely and unmerciful of the greedy and vindictive. Zatoichi is one of the great movie heroes. Shintarô Katsu, one of the great heroic actors. If you haven't seen these films then you could do worse than start here.Author: chriscoates from uk

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Zatoichi's Flashing Sword is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu, Bokuzen Hidari, Naoko Kubo Blind masseur Zatoichi is nursed back to health by a young woman after he is shot by a gang member. Zatoichi, who had come to the village to repay a debt, now feels further indebted. He commits himself to use his amazing sword skills to help the young woman's father, whose river-crossing service is under attack by the same gang responsible for Zatoichi's wounds. Written by Jim Beaver Zatoichi's Flashing Sword is a 1964 Japanese chambara film directed by Kazuo Ikehiro starring Shintaro Katsu as the blind masseur Zatoichi. It was originally released by the Daiei Motion Picture ...more

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Zatoichi's Vengeance is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu, Jun Hamamura, Kei Sato Zatoichi comes upon a dying man who asks him to give a bag of money to "Taichi". Zatoichi has no idea who this is but when he comes upon a small town harassed by gangsters, he finds that "Taichi" was the man's young son. Along his travels he also met a blind monk who makes Zatoichi question his murderous lifestyle. In trying to help the town, Zatoichi kills some gangsters and becomes a hero to the boy. He must make a choice of whether to use non-violence and set a good example, or violence and set the boy on the wrong path in life. Written by Fred Cabral Zatoichi's Vengeance is a 1966 drama film directed by Tokuzo Tanaka.

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Zatoichi's Pilgrimage is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Zatoichi Films

If not exceptional, a good and sometimes strange entry in the Zatôichi series.

After two successive unusual and in part unrelated beginnings, we enter truly familiar territories. The planned and promising pilgrimage to 88 shrines to find somehow the "meaning of death", suddenly stops at 18:10 when Ichi, following a horse, approaches a town of abused villagers.

Of course, Zatôichi is ready (ready?) to protect them, perhaps with a little less enthusiasm than in other occasions. There's tiredness in Zatoichi's aim, a sensation that pervades the complete film until the final long and very good fight.

No humor, not a scene of dice playing in this one! Not even the pilgrimage of the title! But we learn that the good man can swim with extraordinary lack of style or grace...Author: muchmalignedmonster

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Zatoichi the Outlaw is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Zatoichi Films

One of my favorites of the entire series. Zatoichi helps a Yakuza boss by k*****g his rival because he believes he is a good man. After going into hiding for a year he returns after learning he was decieved and that the boss he helped was not such a good man after all. I have never seen Zatoichi this pissed off and this absolutely terrifying. In one particularly scary scene the boss comes home to find his men s*********d and footprints leading into his room, he opens the door to find a soaked and half crazed Ichi sitting on his knees just as lightening strikes. What follows is one of the most brutal blood letting scenes in this series. If that is not enough after k*****g the whole gang Ichi is then carried on a door for miles by villagers to tear apart a few government officials who made the mistake of arresting one of Ichi's freinds. Impossible to calculate the body count on this one. Great fun.

Stephen Clark

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Zatoichi in Desperation is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu, Asao Koike, Katsuo Nakamura Zatoichi in Desperation is the most somber and darkest Zatoichi film that I have seen in the series, both in terms of photography and plot. It's interesting that Shintaro Katsu, who plays Zatoichi, was the director. He was certainly going for a different look and style and got it. Most of the scenes are darkly lit and there is a claustrophobic feeling to the shots. The bad guys, composed of the local yakuza (gangster) mob, are meaner than usual and the body count of innocent villagers is far higher than usual. Zatoichi himself also suffers more at the hands of the evil doers than usual. This was the next to last entry (#24) in the series before the 17 year hiatus between #25 and 26. Things get back into the more typical Zatoichi style in #25. This film would have been appropriate as the last in the series. It has the feeling of "an ending". A very interesting entry, but not one of my favorites. As always, recommended for Zatoichi fans. Author: gkbazalo from Scottsdale, AZ Zatoichi in Desperation is an action adventure drama film directed by Shintaro Katsu.

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Zatoichi and the Fugitives is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind masseur and master swordsman Zatoichi becomes involved with a gang of bandits hiding out in a small village. While they hide in the attic of a silk mill, they manipulate the corrupt chief official of the town. Simultaneously Zatoichi tries to rescue a young woman from the sweatshop conditions of the mill. Eventually he must confront not only the leaders of the town but the outlaw gang in battle. Written by Jim Beaver

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Samaritan Zatoichi is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Zatoichi is forced to kill a young man who owes a debt to a yakuza boss. Moments later, his sister Osode arrives with the money she earned (prostituting herself) to pay his debts. The bosses true motives are revealed and he attempts to steal Osode even though the debt is paid. Zatoichi realizes his grievous error and protects the girl from the gang. Osode and Zatoichi are caught in a dilemma as she must rely on her brother's killer for protection and Zatoichi wrestles with the injustice he has caused. Written by Fred Cabral

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Zatoichi's Revenge is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu, Sachiko Kobayashi Itinerant masseur and master swordsman, the blind Zatoichi, is near the village of his teacher, Hikonoichi, so he decides to visit. He learns of Hikonoichi's recent robbery and murder and the imprisonment of his virginal daughter, Osayo, in a brothel. Through friendship with Denroku, a local dice thrower and devoted father, Ichi uncovers an unholy alliance between the governor and the area strongman: among their scams is falsifying tax records to put farmers in debt, then forcing their daughters into prostitution at the boss's brothel. With help from Denroku's daughter, Otsuru, Ichi comforts Osayo until he can provoke showdowns with the villains and their henchmen. Written by

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Zatoichi: On the Road is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind swordsman/masseuer Ichi (or "Zatoichi") is asked by a dying man to deliver the maiden Mitsu (or "Omitsu") to her family in Edo, and Zatoichi feels honor-bound to do so. But rival gangs each have an interest in kidnapping the girl for ransom. Zatoichi joins with one of the gangs when the other gang captures Mitsu, but he then finds that to rescue her, he must fight both gangs. Written by Jim Beaver

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Tale of Zatoichi Continues is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind swordsman/masseur Zatoichi is pursued by the retainers of a lord who fear that he will reveal a secret weakness of their master. Returning to the village where a year before he had killed Hirate, a much-admired opponent, Zatoichi encounters another swordsman and former rival in love: his own brother. He must face in combat not only the pursuing retainers but his own flesh-and-blood. Written by Jim Beaver

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Zatoichi: Darkness is his Ally is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Zatoichi Films

Shintaro Katsu first portrayed the blind swordsman Zatoichi in 1962 in the film The Tale of Zatoichi. Over the next 10 years, Katsu would star in 24 more Zatoichi films and become one of the biggest stars in Japan. After being off the silver screen for a decade and a half, Zatoichi returned in the final film of the series, 1989's Zatoichi (Also known as Zatoichi 26.) Tokyo Shock has released this movie on DVD under the title Zatoichi: Darkness is his Ally.

After being released from jail for a minor offense, Zatoichi continues his wanderings. He meets up with an old friend who returns some money that he had left the last time they had met. With his newfound wealth, the bind masseuse visits the local gambling parlor and has a good streak of luck. But when he manages to trick the establishment into losing a large sum of money, a price is put on his head.

If that wasn't enough, Zatoichi finds himself caught between two rival factions of Yakuza vying for dominance in a region. A crooked government official has been selling guns to the gangsters, and the whole area is ready to erupt in violence. Add to this mix an unemployed samurai who befriends Zatoichi before being hired by the Yakuza, and you have the formula for an action packed film.

While I enjoyed this movie, I couldn't help thinking that it was an amalgam of all the Zatoichi movies that had come before it. It was almost as if Katsu (who wrote and directed the film in addition to staring in it) had selected the best scenes from the previous movies and strung them together for one 'best of' movie. There are scenes with Zatoichi blowing out his lantern and fighting a group of Yakuza in the dark, Zatoichi befriending a wandering samurai who is later charged with killing the blind masseuse, and Zatoichi protecting children at the risk of his life. These are all good scenes, but when taken together, it makes the film seem formulistic, something that the other 25 films (at least the ones that I have seen) managed to avoid.

This entry in the series was also much bloodier then the earliest films, which was disappointing to me a bit. A lot of the gore seemed rather gratuitous. In one scene a nose that Zatoichi has severed flies across the room and sticks to the wall. There are rivers of blood as arterial sprays splash across the screen. While the Zatoichi films had always had a large amount of violence, I thought the gore content went beyond realistic and became almost a joke.

It was also hard to suspend my disbelief during the climactic battle at the end. I have always liked the scenes where Zatoichi, surrounded and outnumbered, slays half a dozen assailants with his sword, but this scene goes way beyond that. He takes on a small army single-handedly, running through the village, and ducking down side streets when he starts to feel overwhelmed. Have they forgotten that he's blind?

Even with these criticisms, the movie was enjoyable. Katsu was a good director, and there were many powerful scenes in the film. The opening scene where the imprisoned Zatoichi has his food stolen and soup poured onto the ground is an excellent example. The hero has no choice but to kneel down and suck up what he can off the filthy floor. Even being a master swordsman won't prevent you from going hungry.

Shintaro Katsu did an excellent job in this film, as he did in the previous installments. He was able to project Zatoichi's loneliness and isolation with just his facial expression. But Zatoichi isn't a pitiful person. Katsu instills a lot of humor into his character too, but the most amazing thing to me was his physical ability. Katsu was surprisingly spry for someone approaching 60 when the film was made. He is still able to pull off all the stunts and swordplay that he didn't twenty years earlier, with it looking very natural. Zatoichi's upside-down sword grip and lighting fast draws are still as exciting as they were in the earlier films.

There is not a lot in this film that adds much to the story of Zatoichi, and this movie doesn't bring closure to the whole series. While I would have like to have seen the final fate of this wandering blind man, this last movie is a solid entry into the series, if for no other reason than to see an aging Shintaro Katsu play his most famous character in the later part of his life.

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Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Toshiro Mifune, Shintaro Katsu, Shin Kishida With a price on his head, Ichi seeks tranquillity in a favorite village. Since his last visit, it has fallen prey to Boss Masagoro, the son of a merchant rumored to have stolen gold from the shogunate. The boss has hired Yojimbo as his hard-drinking enforcer, but Yojimbo is both a spy for the shogunate, trying to find the gold, and in love with the merchant's unwilling mistress, Umeno. Ichi hires on as the merchant's masseur and buys Umeno's freedom with his employer's own money. This embarrasses Yojimbo who withdraws from a pact with Ichi to stir up trouble between father and son and their gangs. As the two sides fight, Ichi finds the gold and sets up a final set of confrontations. Written by Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo is a drama, action and adventure film directed by Kihachi Okamoto.

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Zatoichi and the Doomed Man is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Blind swordsman Zatoichi, jailed briefly, is implored by another prisoner to aid him in proving his innocence of a crime for which he is sentenced to death. Zatoichi is reluctant to get involved, because he knows how often such involvement has led to trouble in the past. But events conspire to thrust him repeatedly into involvement, and gradually he comes to believe in the man's innocence and determines to free him. Written by Jim Beaver

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Zatoichi's Conspiracy is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Zatoichi Films
Shintaro Katsu, Takashi Shimura, Eiji Okada Zatoichi, the famed blind swordsman, returns to his home village for the first time in many years. He is befriended by Omiyo, who had the same wet-nurse as Zatoichi. He also encounters a boyhood friend, Shinbei, who now is wealthy and appears not to remember Zatoichi. Shinbei seems to be interested in repaying the villagers' debts, but is in reality manipulating the ownership of a now-valuable rock quarry. Zatoichi learns of the subterfuge and confronts his old friend, who has a score of yakuza swordsmen backing his play. Written by Jim Beaver Zatoichi's Conspiracy is an action drama film directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda.