Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967)

  • Year: 1967
  • Released: 12 Aug 1967
  • Country: Japan
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  • Available in: 720p,
  • Language: Japanese
  • MPA Rating: Not Rated
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
  • Runtime: 96 min
  • Writer: Koji Matsumoto, Takehiro Nakajima, Kiyokata Saruwaka
  • Director: Satsuo Yamamoto
  • Cast: Shintarô Katsu, Rentarô Mikuni, Kô Nishimura
  • Keywords: samurai, yakuza, sequel, jail, zatoichi,

Zatoichi the Outlaw Storyline

Zatoichi arrives in a town where a gambling house is kidnapping its poor, debt-ridden patrons. A rival establishment moves to pay those debts and free the peasants, but this house’s seemingly altruistic boss is actually laying the groundwork for a ruthless money-grabbing scheme. The sixteenth Zatoichi film is the first from its star’s own Katsu Productions, and is one of the series’ most daring.—Anonymous

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Zatoichi the Outlaw Movie Reviews

Good but could have been one of the best

If this had been done earlier in the Zatoichi series it could have been one of the best. It is good enough, as most of them are, but the plot and the characters seem too complicated for the series at this point. The situation is unusually intriguing: the farmers in the province have two champions, a benevolent boss (for once) and a philosopher-samurai who starts a sort of Grange; both run afoul of the usual local gangsters, who want the crops to fail because it increases their gambling revenues and their chances to snap up some land; their chief or powerful ally is a seeming puritan who is death on drinking and gambling but secretly indulges his own perverse appetites. (He also resembles Dracula, as the villains in the later Zatoichi movies tend increasingly to do.) These characters have enough meaning so that they deserved to be set against Zatoichi as he was drawn originally, but by now he has lost many of his nuances, and the changes in some of the characters, such as the good boss and the angry sister of a man Zatoichi has killed, need more time then the movie has to give, so that the story seems choppy, as if some scenes were missing. Other than that, the movie shows the virtues of most of the others in the series: good acting, sometimes lyrical photography, the creation of a vivid, believable, and uniquely recognizable landscape (the absence of which is obvious in the occasional episode where the director just misses it), and a technical quality that of its nature disguises itself: the imaginatively varied use of limited sets so their limitations seem not to exist. And of course there is the keynote actor, whose presence, as much as his performance, makes it all work. This must be one of the best-sustained series in movie history.

Im back from hell…because I wanted to settle things with you

So far I have watched all 15 of the Zatoichi movies preceding Zatoichi the Outlaw and this title surprised me the most. Zatoich the Outlaw still uses the ‘tried and tested’ formula of a typical Zatoichi movie with a few subtle changes that gives this film a fresh take on the franchise.

This is largely thanks to the fact that this is the first film done by the Katsu Production Co. The few subtle changes I referred to was firstly brought on by the use of plot devices such as the flow of time to help demonstrate how the true nature of man can change with time.

Secondly, the movie gives a short glimpse of Zatoichis’ life as a masseur in a mountain-side village. This part of the movie was my favorite part as it depicts Zatoichi as a lone drifter that tries to fit in a village of people that recognizes him as someone special, an outsider. His dealings with fellow blind massuers'(anma); rich-folk and a beautiful girl sums him up nicely as an individual in these few short scenes.

This film also didn’t shy away when it came to violence. Severed limbs and blood abound demonstrates Zatoichis’ deadly swordmanship. In many of the previous films it felt like he was merely hitting his opponents with a stick as there was hardly any evidence of fatal injuries and such.

The cinematography is top-notch,the Katsu Production Co. went all out: Picturesque Japanese landscapes; tons of extras dressed up in the appropriate period attire and vibrant colors never before seen in a Zatoichi film. The actors did a stellar job, Rentarô Mikuni that played Asagoro deserves special credit for his truly versatile ability to depicts both sides of human cruelty. The Katsu Production Co. obviously avoided using the same actors that circulated through the series,some actors have played as 5 different characters in the previous films! I was quite surprised when I saw some of the IMDb user reviews writing the film up as the first let down in the long-running series. To the contrary, this film in my opinion is one of the best so far.

New director and writers does not equal a better film

Zatoichi the Outlaw is one of my least favorite entries in the Zatoichi series. Yamato Satsuo directs his only Zatoichi film, and the writers are new as well. In the US, this is also the first Zatoichi film released by AnimEigo on DVD.

The colors are rich and verdant as the film takes place in the rich farmland of summertime Japan. There are some interesting characters, but as others have said, perhaps there are TOO many characters, and none of them is fleshed out well enough.

I do very much like the reaction of Zatoichi as he encounters this unique village and hears the peasants singing of the joy of a life without whores and gambling.

Zatoichi says to himself, “No gambling, no whores, no fighting. Ah, sounds like I’ve stumbled upon one strange village!”

And the fact that Zatoichi is wandering around Japan, encountering different peoples and situations in different seasons, makes the series a true road trip experience.

Zatoichi also tries his hand at improving the situation in the rural community, only to make things even worse. Zatoichi kills one corrupt boss, only to return from a year’s absence to find that his place has been taken by the boss that Zatoichi formerly admired.

There is also a great scene where Katsu Shintaro plays the biwa. This man can play and his sword drawing is just as good!

So although there are some entertaining moments throughout the film, the film doesn’t have the natural flow that a Misumi Kenji directed film has. My advice is to check out the other better films in the series, and check out Zatoichi the Outlaw if you are still hungry for more.