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  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    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.
  • Zatoichi the Outlaw (not really the first time he was an outlaw) is different than its predecessors for a few reasons. First, it's the only Zatoichi film directed by Satsuo Yamamoto, a director noted for his anti-authoritarian films (and indeed, there's a political side to this one as well). It also has a new screen writing staff and it's the first film produced by Shintaro Katsu's own company, Katsu Productions.

    Stylistically, this movie is a bit more rough compared to its predecessors. While the pittoresque, colorful images of feudal Japan are still here, the sword-fights are bloodier. Limbs and heads are hacked off, women are raped. Zatoichi makes some truly horrible life choices that profoundly affect the lives of a nearby family, and he's never really sure whom to trust in this movie. The pacing is also unusual, making the film take place across a whole year instead of a few weeks max. Two notable actors also make an appearance; Rentaro Mikuni and Ko Nishimura.

    The film's highlight: Zatoichi kills a moth by throwing a toothpick at him, the stabbed moth landing on a bad guy's face.
  • 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.
  • I agree with most if not all of the previous commenter's Tom (bighouseaz@yahoo.com). The Zatoichi series is a great character study combined with great sword fighting and excitement.

    I have seen Zatoichi 1-13,15,16; I believe 14 has not been released on Zone 1 (usa). Zatoichi the Outlaw was disappointing. The story line was complicated, and seemed to be a hodgepodge of many previous Zatoichi story lines. At one point, I was wondering if I was not seeing a remake of a previous Zatoichi film.

    This film was disappointing because it started to depend on effects (a head rolling, limbs severed, blood) and less on the nobility of the Zatoichi character. All the previous films succeeded based on the storyline and action, and won a great following without having to resort to effects.

    I am just hoping that the remaining Zatoichi films do NOT follow the same trend. This is the first Zatoichi film from his studio. I highly recommend all the previous Zatoichi films -- and recommend them.
  • 'Zatoichi The Outlaw' was I think the sixteenth(!) entry in this long running action series, regarded by many as the most entertaining and consistent one of its type. The films generally shared a similar plot device - the wandering blind masseuse Zatoichi (played by Shintaro Katsu, incidentally the brother of Tomisaburo Wakayama star of the cult Lone Wolf And Cub series) enters a village being tormented by local baddies and kicks their asses, but the series managed to explore many variations of this basic theme (which is also pretty similar to Kurosawa's classic 'Yojimbo', and yes, Zatoichi did eventually "meet" Yojimbo in case you're wondering!). Katsu is perfect in the role which he really made his own. Beat Takeshi I admit was very cool as Zatoichi in his recent reworking of the character, but I'm sure even he would concede that Katsu IS Zatoichi. 'Zatoichi The Outlaw' has an interesting Leftist sub-text, and includes an intriguing character who attempts to organize the local peasants into a co-operative. If your appetite for samurai movies has been whetted by Takeshi's 'Zatoichi' or Tarantino's 'Kill Bill: Vol. 1' and 'Vol. 2', don't just stick with the Kurosawa classics, try the original Zatoichi movies. They are well made, well acted and filled with excitement and interest. I haven't seen enough of them to rate 'Zatoichi The Outlaw' overall, but it's a very entertaining film and I recommend it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is one of the oddest films of the Zatôichi series due to its very unusual pacing and the role that Ichi plays in the film. Interestingly enough, this was the first Zatôichi film made by Shintaro Katsu's new production company. Now, instead of just playing the blind swordsman, Katsu is in charge of making the films. This could easily explain why this film seems so different in style to the previous 15 films. As far as Ichi's role, the film is very different because he isn't in the film as much as usual. He's also easy to fool and actually, for a while, does a lot to harm people instead of helping!

    "Zatôichi Rôyaburi" begins with Ichi talking with an old lady who tries to take advantage of his blindness. Oddly, in this scene, Ichi says that he's been blind since a toddler, though in an earlier film he says his blindness set in when he was 8. This is a minor mistake, and only a crazed fan like myself would have noticed.

    This film takes place over a period of at least six months and is more likely to have taken a year--so you can see what I said about odd pacing. Most films in the series take place over a few days or weeks. Ichi comes to a town where there is a boss (Asagoro) who tries very hard to be nice to Ichi because he knows of the blind man's reputation. The boss is quite charming and surprisingly Ichi is totally taken in by the evil man. At the same time, he meets another boss (Shushui)--a sort of guru to the poor. Shushui admonishes the people to forsake all violence and even Ichi falls under his teaching--giving up his blade for many months. Shushui's teachings are very similar to Daoist teachings from China--non-violence and acceptance of life as it is (for good or for bad).

    Months after leaving this town and thinking all was well, Ichi learns that as soon as he left, Asagoro showed his true colors--enslaving women, oppressing the poor and being an all-around jerk. In a way, Ichi is responsible for this, as he helped Asagoro and counted him as a friend. Now, Asagoro has captured Shushui and several innocent people have killed themselves due to the evil boss' actions.

    When Ichi returns, he doesn't accept automatically that Asagoro is good or evil but tests him cleverly. This bit with a scarecrow is inspired and leads to a finale where, what else, Ichi kills the baddies and frees Shushui. This finale was very good and occurred in the rain. Then final scene with Asagoro and the rocks is great, though the beheading is a tad cheesy by today's special effects standards.

    Pluses for the film are that although poorly paced, it is different and cannot be mistaken for the previous 15 (which often seem very similar). Additionally, it does end very well. Minuses (aside from pacing) are that some might dislike seeing Ichi so fallible and the scenes with Ichi and the other blind men that are included for comic relief fall flat...very, very, very flat. They are tacky and unfunny...that's the sort of flat that it is.
  • Zatoichi the Outlaw is the sixteenth entry in the franchise about the blind masseur, skilled swordsman and lowly yakuza. It's also the first film to be produced by Katsu Productions, lead actor's Katsu Shintaro's own company. The movie remains faithful to the franchise's typical storytelling of the main character traveling across rural Japan during the shogunate's final years in mid-nineteenth century in order to support the helpless in their struggles with exploitative authorities. However, there are also a few new elements such as more explicit fight scenes with severed limbs and fake blood. The plot is also more complex and epic than usual. To keep it short, Zatoichi travels to a town led by a sword-less ronin who leads a peasant movement advocating the abstention from drinking, gambling and whoring and teaching how to cultivate rice more efficiently. This ronin is supported by a seemingly honest yakuza and boss who appears to be very close to local farmers. However, another boss who is backed up by a corrupt government official has interest in making money as he organizes a festival promoting the use of alcohol, indepts young peasants by making them participate in crooked gambling and establishes a new brothel. Zatoichi gets caught in between the opposing parties and decides to help the sword-less ronin and the honest yakuza boss. He accidentally kills a peasant that was sent to attack him and injures another. When the corrupt boss confronts him, Zatoichi kills him and goes into hiding. However, Zatoichi soon realizes that his actions have changed things for the worse. The dead peasant's sister is abused by the corrupt government official and then forced into prostitution. The injured peasant is obsessed with killing Zatoichi. The honest yakuza has taken the dead boss' place and has been corrupted by greed and power. The sword-less ronin gets is accused of treason and gets imprisoned. One year after he left the village, Zatoichi is back to repair his mistakes by using his sword.

    Even though several critics had a negative perception of Zatoichi the Outlaw, I happen to think it's one of the best entries in the franchise. First of all, the camera work is splendid. It's calm, focused and precise and the landscapes are even more colorful than usual. The score is dramatic and adds a solid dose of intensity to the film. The numerous characters are intriguing and have depth, especially since a lot of them are going through profound and at times unpredictable changes. The movie also has a more ideologiocal and philosophical note as the sword-less ronin tries to organize collective farming and suggest Zatoichi to lay down his sword. This movie almost has a socialist message which is quite interesting. The fight sequences are more intense as well thanks to more explicit scenes with torn hands and heads and the use of fake blood. It makes the brief fights more realistic.

    However, the film has a few minor flaws. Even though new writers and even a new director were hired for this film, the plot is still mostly predictable. Also, there aren't many sword fights and the few that are shown aren't as skillful as one is used to. The fights are more brutal and realistic but less artistic and dynamic, taking away from the charme of the series.

    In the end, Zatoichi the Outlaw is still a highlight of the Zatoichi franchise in my book. The great acting performances, progressive ideologies and epic plot make this film stand out for fans of old date and new ones alike. Ignore the negative reviews and give it a try!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film sees the blind swordsman Zatoichi arriving in a village where he meets Shushi Ohara, a samurai who no longer carries a sword but is still capable of defending himself. He is trying to help the peasants by encouraging them to stop gambling and drinking; something that is upsetting the local boss who has been fleecing them. Another boss appears to be more altruistic but he has his own devious plan to take the peasants' land. Inevitably Zatoichi eventually comes to the aid of the peasants even though he initially trusted the 'good' boss.

    As I've not seen many Zatoichi films, and this is the oldest one I've seen so far I can't compare it to the earlier films but I will say I enjoyed it; it certainly isn't necessary to have seen other films in the series to understand what is going on. The story is easy enough to follow and there is plenty of impressive action. Some of this is pretty bloody as limbs and heads get severed occasionally. Zatoichi is an interesting protagonist; he isn't always right and his mistakes have real consequences; Shintaro Katsu does a fine job in the role. As well as good action there are a few laughs to be had along the way.

    These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.
  • The whole series is impressive. Yet this is way lower in quality. As another reviewer compared it with the Tarantino junk, well, for those there isn't any drop in quality.

    I'd say it's impressive to keep such a long series till the first movie of a lesser value. This is the first one with a complicated to shady story line and at this point they try (why?) to experiment with a different kind of cinematography. And while the dynamic scenes are a bit weird, things like the beheading are way out of their league... It's more inexplicable as the series so far was good enough skipping gore and close-ups.

    Also, there is no need to relate this series with Kurosawa. Kurosawa, a samurai descendant, made movies about the life and honor of the important people. People who went for the art and not for the craft. Zatoichi is made by actor descendants (quite at the opposite side of the social scale) and it's about life and death and less about the craft. One is telling the stories from above the peasant class, in a contemplative manner and the other is telling them from the back streets somehow looking up to the stability of the peasant life.

    Contact me with Questions, Comments or Suggestions ryitfork @ bitmail.ch