Zatoichi meets the One-Armed Swordsman follows in the same footsteps as the previous Zatoichi film, Zatoichi meets Yojimbo, by introducing a guest character from a popular series or film of the time. In this case, we are introduced to Wang Yu, of One-Armed Swordsman fame.
Having travelled from China to Japan in an attempt to escape from a past shrouded in mystery, Wang Kong (Wang Yu) doesn’t waste much time in making new enemies. After saving a child from death, Kong is a wanted man in an unfamiliar land. Since this is a Zatoichi film, masseur Ichi (Shintaro Katsu) soon finds himself caught up with the fugitive.
Throughout this film we find a prevailing theme of the difficulties experienced when people of different cultures meet. In particular, the difficulty the two lead characters, Zatoichi (Japanese) and Wang Kong (Chinese), experience when trying to communicate. This leads to comical scenes of mistranslation of similar sounding words and phrases, but also allows for the climactic fight scene between the two. A neat feature in this film is that Yu speaks in Chinese, which is translated into Japanese subtitles. The only problem is that for an English speaking audience, everything is translated into English subtitles and thus, the language barrier within the film may not be immediately obvious.
However, to be a Zatoichi film there must be some sword-fighting scenes, and Zatoichi meets the One-Armed Swordsman does not disappoint with a plethora of fight scenes. Masseur Ichi has grown tired of sparing the lives of Yakuza goons as he once did, and so there is a great deal of death dealt out by Zatoichi. Also, in a first for the Zatoichi series we have squirty arterial blood reminiscent of such films as the Lone Wolf and Cub series.
Zatoichi meets the One-Armed Swordsman is only let down by some poorly choreographed unarmed fight scenes. The Zatoichi series is based upon sword fights, and well-choreographed ones at that. Thus, it is a let down when the unarmed fight scenes lack the same level of quality. There are some moments that are very cool, such as the one-strike kill and some backwards jumping into trees, but for the most part, these good unarmed moments are few and far between. Luckily, the final fight scene between Zatoichi and Kong sees the predominate use of swords, and the result is spectacular.
One thing I couldn’t get over for the entirety of the film was the length of Kong’s sword (ahem…). Zatoichi’s cane sword seems just about the right length to keep would-be attackers away. Kong’s, on the other hand is more a dagger than a sword, and it seems to get smaller as the film progresses. Still it seems more than adequate at repelling enemies.
Overall, Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman, is another great film is a series that seems to get better with each film. Whilst Wang Yu doesn’t have the same screen presence as Toshiro Mifune in Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, he is still very good in this film.