Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970)

79% – Critics
79% – Audience

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No butts no glory!

This entry in the Zatoichi series is firmly planted in the 1970s and at times has an almost James Bondesque feel to it. This is especially true in the bath house scene where Zatoichi goes to enjoy a calming bath and ends up attached by scores of tattooed, naked yakuza. The music is great and the scene is frenetic and fun at the same time. Wooden buckets are used strategically and in a funny way. For veteran Zatoichi fans, notice how Zatoichi’s style differs when he uses someone else’s sword.

Tatsuya Nakadai does take part in Festival of Fire. He is a truly deranged and dangerous ronin. Of course it’s Zatoichi’s fate to meet him in the final scene.

The colors are brilliant, there’s a good musical score and it’s a fine blend of humor, drama, and action. This is an entry with wide appeal for chambara fans. It’s campy at times, so those who love the early Zatoichi films most might feel that this film is a bit frivolous, but for the casual viewer there is much to enjoy.

Pretty exciting but what about that crazy husband?!

I loved about 90% of ‘Zatôichi abare-Himatsuri”–the part I didn’t like and seemed unnecessary was the angry husband played by Tatsuya Nakadai. Still, because there was a lot of fresh (or reasonably fresh) material in this film, it stands as one of the better films in the series.

Ichi is giving a massage to a man who is at an auction of high-priced mistresses. When an extremely beautiful woman is introduced, the place is a buzz–especially when the men are told she was the woman of a retainer (a high government official). However, Ichi being a Sir Galahad, of sorts, after the auction is over and the woman is being taken away, Ichi rescues her–though she doesn’t seem all that relieved. Additionally, as soon as she is spirited away by Ichi, a crazed samurai appears and kills all the men who were transporting her–as well as her new master. The next morning, when she sneaks away from Ichi, this samurai appears and kills her as well. Then, throughout the film, this killer appears from out of no where to tell Ichi that he will kill him because he defiled his wife (which Ichi hadn’t). This angry husband was a scary guy but also made little sense in the film. After a while, he seemed more like a plot device than a real person.

Aside from this (and it was NOT a huge portion of the script), the film was exceptional. It seems that there’s a super-boss who is incredibly rich and powerful–probably more than any Ichi had encountered before in other films. The surprise is that this boss is blind and at first he and Ichi are friends. However, the blind boss is at heart a major creep and naturally he orders Ichi’s death (you’d think they’d learn and just leave Zatoichi alone).

The assassination attempts help to elevate this film from the norm. The first is rather cheesy but also great fun. As Ichi is bathing in a public bath house, assassins converge and it’s an all-out naked mêlée! While you see a lot of butts, it is funny seeing how the camera avoids showing any genitalia–and it’s all pretty silly. When Ichi began tossing buckets on everyone’s head and fighting, I must say I’d never seen a Zatoichi film like this before–and I’ve seen all but one of the films. The big “boss battle” at the end is also really exciting, as the blind boss uses his brain to defeat Ichi. The final scene on the island is once again unique–something you don’t see in most of the Zatoichi films–where repetition is the norm.

A few of the other unusual things to look for are the homosexual who falls for Ichi and tries to seduce him, the female assassin who naturally falls for Ichi instead of killing him and Ichi reading a form of Braille (which, I assume they did NOT have in Japan in the 1830s, as the country was essentially closed to foreigners and foreign influences, so they could not have known about Braille’s innovation).

Overall, very good. I just wish they’d hashed out the one character more or eliminated him from the film. That crazed husband just seemed crazy.

Wow! Tatsuya Nakadai in Zatoichi

I couldn’t believe it when I saw Tatsuya Nakadai (Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Harakiri, High and Low, Ran, etc,etc) pop up in this Zatoichi episode as a crazed, jilted husband out for revenge on almost everyone, including Zatoichi. I noticed the credits had a variation of his name (Nakayo, I think it was). We also have Masayuki Mori (Rashomon, The Idiot, etc) as the mandatory evil boss. Only this time, the evil boss is an evil SUPERBOSS, he’s blind (and therefore obviously much more dangerous) and resembles Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse. We also have a great humorous side story with Peter (the blind younger brother in Ran) playing an effeminate pimp who tries to seduce and kill Zatoichi –a riot–in order to enter the local yakuza gang. There’s also a very funny scene with two roadhouse employees that had me laughing out loud. The cast, characters and plot really set this one above many of the Zatoichi’s, including the one Katsu did with Toshiro Mifune (Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo). The film is directed by Kenji Misumi, who directed some of the best Zatoichi films as well as several of the Lone Wolf and Cub series. An absolute must-see for Zatoichi fans and highly recommended for sumarai movie fans. As a Zatoichi movie, 11 out of 10, as a samurai movie or on any other basis, 9 of 10.