Review: Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

Directed by:

Distributed in Australia by:

It’s a crying shame when a well-loved film series becomes so formulaic that each successive film brings nothing fresh or original to the story line or character development of the series. Unfortunately, it seems that Zatoichi in Desperation has steered the Zatoichi franchise down this path of fruitless repetition. Having said this, Zatoichi in Desperation cannot be called a terrible film: it’s just a bad film, as there are a handful of good scenes which make the film watchable.

It seems that the problem with Zatoichi in Desperation is a problem that plagues many series, and that is the problem of trying to keep things fresh and original. Obviously this is a difficult task to achieve as the series drags on through the years, but as the Zatoichi series has done in previous films, small glimpses of a character’s past are revealed to provide added depth. Nothing like this occurs in Zatoichi in Desperation. Instead, we have a rehashing of themes previously encountered throughout the series.

Throughout the Zatoichi series a number of elements have become quite common. For example, there is quite often a woman whom Zatoichi establishes an attachment to and who is treated poorly, which results in Zatoichi feeling compelled to protect her. There is the local yakuza who learn of Zatoichi’s presence in town and feel the need to collect the reward on his head. And of course there is the ubiquitous fight scene as Zatoichi cuts a swath through a group of ne’er-do-wells, often with a big boss battle.

Quite often all of these elements will be used within a Zatoichi film. However, it all comes down to how well these elements are executed. Again, unfortunately for Zatoichi in Desperation, nothing really works. For example, one of the main highlights of a Zatoichi film is when Ichi must face off against a warrior of respectable skill. This leads to a spectacular fight with Zatoichi coming out the victor, albeit barely (his name is in the film title after all). This is not quite the case in Zatoichi in Desperation: whilst there are fight scenes and a boss battle, they are all fairly disappointing, plagued by bad camera angles and poor choreography. In fact it is so difficult to see what’s going on in the boss battle that you’re not sure if the bad guy dies by Zatoichi’s sword or by being knocked on the head by a falling roof.

Overall, if you believe that completeness only comes from the watching of the entire Zatoichi series, then you really won’t care much about all that. If, however, you just wish to know who this Zatoichi guy is, then there are a number of far better films starring our titular hero to sink your teeth into (Zatoichi: Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman, Zatoichi: Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo or Zatoichi: The Tale of Zatoichi to name but a few).

6 flashes of a cane sword out of 10.
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