Review: Zatoichi: Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)

Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, is the first Zatoichi film to see Shintaro Katsu go head-to-head with screen legend Toshiro Mifune. We know that they have to fight one another, but whose fighting skills will reign supreme?

What an incredibly good film! The entire film feels as though there was more money to spend than in all the previous Zatoichi films put together, and this has resulted in a forty year old film that is just as much, if not more, fun and visually impressive than many films made more recently.

Set design has improved, with a greater variety of well-detailed sets and locations. In addition there is an increase in the size of the cast and in particular, an improvement of the acting ability of even minor characters. However, there are still some characters that seem to have a penchant for melodramatics. The biggest offender is the corrupt merchant who seems to take around ten minutes to die as he stumbles around the village.

With regards to the cast, the big drawcard is the inclusion of Toshiro Mifune, whose performance as the loud and often drunk Yojimbo is unmistakeable. Mifune is probably best known for his work with director Akira Kurosawa in such films as Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Sanjuro and of course Yojimbo. Having only Seven Samurai as a basis for comparison, I must say that Mifune gives a similar performance in this film. He is such a larger than life character that he often steals the show from Katsu.

The pairing of the two is just right, with Yojimbo’s brutish and headstrong attitude set against Zatoichi’s more subtle and intelligent methods. This ‘odd couple’ pairing does lead to a hitherto unknown element in the Zatoichi series and that is humour. Amazingly, it works quite well, although it is so subtle that at times you could miss it.

As for the plot, it’s easy to get into and is enthralling to the end. The only problem is that, as with other films from the Zatoichi series, there is the assumed knowledge of the Zatoichi character. However, basic knowledge of the legend is more that adequate to enjoy this film.

As an aside, a comment must be made as to the amazing job Eastern Eye has done with regards to the video transfer to DVD. Whilst the other Zatoichi films looked fine, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo looks exceptionally good. The video is clean and crisp and colours are vivid. In addition, an interesting feature of the subtitles is that they provide explanations of words that cannot be easily translated. One example would be when currency denominations are discussed and a brief explanation of the relationship between each denomination is given at the top of the screen.

Overall, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo is a worthy addition to the legendary Zatoichi series.

9.5 piles of gold dust out of 10.
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