Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965)

72% – Critics
72% – Audience

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man Storyline

Blind swordsman Zatoichi, jailed briefly, is implored by another prisoner to aid him in proving his innocence of a crime for which he is sentenced to death. Zatoichi is reluctant to get involved, because he knows how often such involvement has led to trouble in the past. But events conspire to thrust him repeatedly into involvement, and gradually he comes to believe in the man’s innocence and determines to free him.—Jim Beaver

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Zatoichi and the Doomed Man Movie Reviews

A good Zatoichi film with a shot of humor.

This Zatoichi film is pretty good–thanks to a good plot and a bit of needed humor. The film begins with Zatoichi being caned and imprisoned briefly for illegal gambling. The guy in the adjoining cell has been sentenced to death and he pleads with the blind man to help him, as he’s done nothing and was wrongly convicted. He wants Ichi to see the boss in a nearby town, as they are friends and this friend would never let him be executed. For once, Zatoichi isn’t eager to do good–after all, what can he do to help the guy? And, he figures, he’s probably NOT innocent after all.

Soon after being released, Ichi is back to his usual gambling and there he meets an idiot named Hyakutaro. Hyakutaro decides to be nice and let Zatoichi be his partner in gambling–after Ichi proves to be not only an amazing gambler but an amazing swordsman. The guy turns out to be very talkative and annoying. When the two soon separate, Ichi wanders about…until he learns that Hyakutaro is telling everyone in the boss’ city that HE is the great swordsman, Zatoichi! Ichi knows he needs to confront the idiot (especially since he’s doing a lot to damage Ichi’s good reputation)–and he can also talk to this boss about his imprisoned friend.

The boss listens to Zatoichi’s account of the friend in prison awaiting execution. The boss agrees that the man is his friend AND he could never have committed any crime. He also agrees to go to the prison and arrange his release. However, this boss is, according to a lady in town, quite the liar and Ichi should be very careful.

In the next scene, Hyakutaro quickly is caught pretending to be Zatoichi by Zatoichi himself in a rather funny scene. It seems that “Zatoichi” has expensive habits and agrees to work with the boss IF he gets very well paid, the best food and women. To placate this fake Zatoichi, they also arrange for him to get a massage…and you can probably guess who his masseur is! You can probably also guess that the boss really IS a scoundrel, as he is responsible for sending his friend to jail on trumped up charges. And, predictably, the boss sends out his goons to kill Ichi. And, also quite predictably, Ichi cuts them to ribbons with his fancy swordsmanship.

Overall, this is another solid film in the franchise. While an awful lot of it is familiar, it is well done AND there is some nice (and not overdone) comic relief.

Lots of swordplay

Equal measures of humour and action enliven this entry in the series. Zatoichi hooks up with a cowardly but greedy hustler who steals the blind swordsman’s identity. Of course he eventually needs Zatoichi’s assistance! There’s a lengthy battle at the end of the film to please aficionados of the genre, as Zatoichi must rescue a wrongly condemned man from execution.

Silly slapstick elements, many loose ends and a generic plot make for one of the weakest entries in the franchise

After releasing one of the very best entries in the franchise with the sinister Zatoichi’s Revenge, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man is one of the weakest films about the blind masseur. It tells how Zatoichi gets arrested for illegal gambling and meets a prisoner who is about to get sentenced to death for crimes he claims he didn’t commit. He asks Zatoichi to help him by meeting his boss as well as his sworn brother who could clear his name. Zatoichi is first reluctant to help but once he does, he realizes that the prisoner got set up by his two friends and tries to set things right.

Despite being one of the weakest entries in the franchise, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man still has a few positive elements to point out. The pace of the film is rather quick as the story unfolds coherently and the set of characters is introduced step by step. This film certainly isn’t boring. An interesting element is the idea to include an impostor who claims to be Zatoichi to get alcohol, money and women which adds some situation comedy to the film. The landscapes are particularly interesting in this film as Zatoichi travels to the ocean for the first time in his life and as the final duel takes places in an abandoned fishing village in the dunes which looks gorgeous.

There are a couple of elements that weigh that movie down. First of all, the sword fights are particularly wooden, especially since Zatoichi doesn’t have to face a respectable opponent this time around. The idea of his opponents to use trenches and fishing nets to trick the lowly yakuza in the final fight sequence is the only remotely interesting element about the fight scenes in this film. The impostor who claims to be Zatoichi seems intriguing at first but quickly becomes very annoying as his only purpose seems to be to bring some comic relief in form of silly slapstick scenes. Aside of Zatoichi, most characters remain either shallow or are unnerving, like the woman who claims to know him and follows him around to give him useless tips. A final element that bothered me was the fact that the fate of numerous characters and side stories isn’t even explained at the end of the movie. Maybe the makers of the movie believed some of the characters to be so generic that the viewers wouldn’t even care about their fates which is strange but turns out to be accurate in my book.

In the end, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man is an entertaining and fast-paced entry in the franchise but ultimately overtly humorous and just not memorable. Collectors and fans of the franchise might appreciate the film for its atmosphere, locations and the sympathetic lead character but those who aren’t too familiar with the blind samurai definitely shouldn’t start their journey with this movie.