When it comes to Eastern Cinema fighting greats two of the most enduringly synonymous characters are without question Zatoichi and The One Armed Swordsman.
Throughout the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies stars Shintaro Katsu and Jimmy Wang Yu set the screen alight with dazzling skills of swordsmanship and so it came to be that their paths inevitably crossed , as in 1971 Toho Productions gave the world the film it wanted to see with , Zatoichi Meets The One Armed Swordsman.
The recent release of this classic encounter to Pal Region 2 DVD is as welcome an arrival for later day fans of Japanese Samurai action as it first was for the escapist seeking Kung Fu- aholics first time round.
With an original wide screen Cinematic scope ratio , that is made full use of with great Direction from Kimiyoshi Yasuda , you'll forgive the overly dark hues of the picture quality for the shear pleasure of the fighting coordination that never leaves the visual field of play as this old school , original special effects free Samurai Showdown , delivers an invigorating transcendental experience well worth seeking out.
When Wang Kong arrives in Japan from China to seek out spiritual enlightenment from a holy temple he is befriended by a family of fellow countrymen who make him welcome and offer to show him the path to what he seeks.
Soon they encounter the symbolic procession of traditional Nambu Samurai warriors which is by law given clear passage with the precedence to kill all who dare to cross before them and tragedy befalls the kindly kin when at a roadside encounter their young son runs out to collect his wayward kite which leads to the slaughter of all innocent bystanders witness to the event.
The abilities of Wang Kong enable the father to survive long enough to usher away his son only to be discovered by the travelling Zatoichi , who with the parents dying words is asked to take care of the boy.
It is not long before Wang Kong eludes the despotic attentions of the Nambu and lays claim to protector of the surviving youth by crossing Zatoichi's path in a tactful play that displays his prowess and the blind swordsman's tactful assessment of his opponent , in a masterfully subtle show of minimal exertion yet momentous examination , setting stall for the inevitable encounter to come.
The Nambu are revealed as tyrannical Yakuza who govern the surrounding land with fear over the simple villagers and when a bounty is placed on Wang's head all who try and harbour him and the boy are mercilessly slaughtered.
Zatoichi's natural instincts lead him into assisting the Chinese traveller and orphan as a mutual respect develops between them. Despite the language barrier the fledgling interpretation of the young Chinese boy aids them along the way to reaching haven at the temple but the journey is beset by deception , distrust and avarice as the local gang boss reveals Zatoichi's own Yakuza past.
A family that befriends the trio is assaulted and killed leaving only the daughter , a young woman , to survive but as Zatoichi rescues her in a superbly realised fight sequence , pitting him against a group of samurai in the enclosed environment of a darkened shack , his intentions are misinterpreted and his disappearance leads to Wang Kong believing him to be the enemy.
Amongst some very well choreographed short bursts of sword fighting , that gleefully details Zatoichi's great skill as he masterfully slices off ears and heads - just because he can , there is an intrinsic dash of humour that includes a marvellously realised moment that has a trio of comic relief , which includes another blind man , lining up outside a prostitutes room and each poking a hole through the mesh windows to peek through , but the sightless leader of course places his ear to the portal only to then receive a retaliatory assault on his sense of smell , from the equally inventive Zatoichi.
The tremendous fighting skills of Wang Kong are also showcased to perfection as he finds himself cornered in a quarry with dozens of assailants surrounding him within a work hut that is soon besieged and then set alight to. When the mighty Jimmy Wang Yu leaps up from out the roof you know that before his feet hit the ground there's gonna be some rowdy , rowdy and pretty soon the one arm swordsman hands out his own fiery display of fighting fu as he utilises his personalised short blade with vanquishing attrition.
There are a few more twists to the storyline and betrayals on route before the too late to get more popcorn finale is reached and that moment must have guaranteed a latrine queue free spell as the titular finale takes centre stage , with the only bodily fluid expulsion being a tear shed for a favoured hero as in defeat the ultimate battle is lost through the language barrier as Wang Kong believes Zatoichi to be his enemy as he misinterprets actions in place of meaningless words.
This is must see traditional film fare that tells a simple tale well with a measure of humour amongst the culminating action. Closing with the rewarding stand off that is worth the price of admission on its own to discover if the blind Zatoichi can see it through to the end , or whether the one armed swordsman can single-handedly win the day.
Film review by Paul Cooke
Film Reviewed: Zatoichi Meets The One Armed Swordsman
Format : DVD
Release : Artsmagic Ltd / Warrior Range
Coding : PAL Region 2
Sound : Dolby Digital Mono
Extras : Chapter Selection / Director Profile / Star Shintaro Katsu
Profile / Cast Pictures / Movie Stills / Warrior Title Range