Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968)

Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Takashi Shimura, Kayao Mikimoto, Kyosuke Machida, Yumiko Nogawa, Hoswi Komatsu, Shobun Inoue, Jotaro Semba, Jutaro Hojo, Koichi Mizuhara

“Darkness makes no difference to a blind man.” –Zatoichi

Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda struck some serious gold with his last entry into the Zatoichi series with Zatoichi’s Cane Sword and I was looking forward to what he would have to offer in his next installment Zatoichi and the Fugitives. There are a lot of things to enjoy about this eighteenth entry for fans of the series and conceptionally the film hits some great beats, but it does tend to lack a bit of the emotional resonance it could have had…with a bit of focus shifting. The potential for this film is bigger than the result.

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu), while continuing his endless journey, finds himself in the house of elderly doctor (Taktashi Shimura) his daughter (Kayao Mikimoto) for a short duration. Unfortunately, a cruel and corrupt official (Hosei Komatsu) in the town has been enforcing some poor work habits on the local women. When a gang of ruthless fugitives shows up as hired hands, Zatoichi may find himself outnumbered by a talented and vicious group.

A walk through the forest
Similar to Zatoichi’s Cane Sword, Fugitives has a darker edge to the film that earns itself some solidarity throughout. The film leans towards a more violent tone and it uses its dual villains to really push some of the darker tones. In fact, it’s the titular villains that represent something unique to this film. By now our blind hero has slaughtered hordes of ‘entrepreneurial’ yakuza and samurai for hire, but he has never met a group of men who simply kill for fun with little in the motivation for business. They are ‘hired’ by a corrupt official in this film, but these fugitives pose the real threat. This leads to what might also be the biggest disappointment in Fugitives, when the film careens a bit too far to focus on the corrupt official as a villain and not enough on this band of killers – leaving the viewer wondering what might have been if the film had simplified itself even more and focused on a man who inherently fights for good versus a group who inherently fights for destruction.

Let's hope he makes a sharp decision.
 Zatoichi as a character tends to follow the same character arc we have seen a few times over, but due to the villainous group of the title he finds himself at odds and seemingly outnumbered for the first time in a long time. There is even a moment where we find our hero gravely wounded (from a gun shot) and at the mercy of some of the strong secondary characters for help. There is a sort of family dynamic for the old man doctor and his daughter that feels a bit dry in depth at times though. Considering how large of a role they play in the plot progression in the latter half – including the shelter of Zatoichi when he is injured - the emotional impact of the finale seems a bit lost as the film places the plot before the characters arcs. It’s still strong overall, but the potential here is massive.

Lighting the way.
If anything, Zatoichi and the Fugitives is the film that suffers because the potential for its epic head-to-head character clashes and strong story telling is huge. The dark streaks, the family dynamics, the villains…they are all rather unique and potentially franchise shifting. Yet, Fugitives tends to place its plot before any of that and it adheres to the formula a bit too closely. This allows the film to be good, but rarely as great as its potential would give it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

No comments:

Post a Comment