After the rather pitiful Zatoichi in Desperation I was worried that the Zatoichi franchise could be lost forever. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy writing a scathing review – in fact they’re easier to write, it’s just that you have to watch the film in the first place. Thus I had fairly low expectations when I began watching Zatoichi at Large. Thankfully it isn’t as bad as Zatoichi in Desperation. What am I saying?! It completely annihilates all expectations with a perfectly timed series of lightning fast sword strikes. I would even go so far as to say that it is the best Zatoichi film that I have ever seen to date and, if I never see another Zatoichi film, the best ever.
So how is it possible that this Zatoichi film is so good? Well, as I’ve discussed in previous Zatoichi reviews, due to the large number of films in the series it’s innately difficult come up with truly unique story lines and events for each film. Thus, there seems to be established a number of key elements that are used in each subsequent film. However, as I discussed with Zatoichi in Desperation, even having all of these elements present in the film doesn’t necessarily mean that the film is good. The determining factor as to the overall quality of the film is dependant upon the quality of the individual elements and how well they are ultimately combined. In Zatoichi in Desperation, the quality of elements and their amalgamation made this poor reviewer cry (and not in the good way).
On the other hand, Zatoichi at Large, has all the same elements present in Zatoichi in Desperation, and yet not only does it work, it also pushes the quality of the Zatoichi series up a notch or two. For example, the plot is strong, with a logical progression from beginning to end with no holes or hasty plot resolutions as the time runs out. Character development is good with plenty to learn of our titular hero. Most importantly, Zatoichi at Large is stuffed to the gunwales with sword fighting goodness.
There is one quibble that I have with the film, and it’s right at the beginning when Zatoichi helps a dying woman deliver a baby. I’m not going to describe it here but trust me when I say that it’s fairly disturbing. However, having survived this ordeal (granted giving birth and then dying can’t be much of a laugh either) we are presented with an attempt by Zatoichi to be a wet nurse. I don’t think I need to continue.
All in all, I could say that Zatoichi at Large is a tour de force and hopefully get a quote on the back of a DVD case, but that would be overly pretentious. Instead, I will simply say that as long as you are willing to sit through the first few minutes, Zatoichi at Large is arguably one of the best films of the series.