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.
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