Zatoichi. Is there a Film that Compares…?


[IN CASE YOU DON’T KNOW]  The Tale of Zatoichi (Zatoichi Monogatari) is the first film of the Zatoichi series starring Shintaro Katsu as the Zatoichi, the blind swordsman. He lives by the Yakuza code and travels throughout feudal Japan as a lowly masseur.  While practicing his trade, in a small province, “Ichi” finds himself caught in the middle of a turf war between two rival gangs.

Don’t get me wrong… I love Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Jet Li’s Hero, and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master 2… but there is something about Shintaro Katsu and his portrayal of the legendary blind masseur, Zatoichi (Zatoichi Monogatari, The Tale of Zatoichi) that commands (within my soul) excitement and admiration. 

When I talk to my friends about films I’ve seen, I don’t usually jump out and recommend Zatoichi… that is, unless that person happens to be martial arts enthusiast… then, and only then does this title soar to the top of the list.  First of all, everyone loves “the underdog story.”  Zatoichi doesn’t look like a warrior and that seems to play to his advantage.  He’s friendly, courteous, and intent on living in peace (that is… until he is forced to use the blade)- which shows to all, charisma and a great respectability. 


[MY FAVORITE SCENE]  Don’t read this paragraph if you want to rent/buy this movie and have every scene be unknown to you.  The gang boss is sitting among his henchmen and are poking fun at Zatoichi’s blindness and laziness.  The hall becomes silent as the boss realizes that Ichi is standing amongst them.  Ichi slowly makes his way to the front of the group and kneels beside a lit candle-stand.  In a humble and dignified way, he proceeds to tell them of his hardships but at the same time insisting they they show him no pity… that he is the way he is because of vermin like them… that he could easily have been an acupuncturist- but that wouldn’t impress them.  His skill is for himself… and not a side-show act.  As the gang members look on… Ichi picks up the end of the candle and tosses it in the air.  With a flick of the wrist, a sword whips at the air from out of a walking cane and softly returns to its sheath.  With mouths agape, Ichi walks out of the room; the candle lays on the floor, split equally up the center… still burning… but now with two wicks.

 Ichi is the Zorro of Japanese cinema, but more intriguing and stricken with greater obstacles.  The Tale of Zatoichiwas made in 1962 and continues to be my numbero uno samurai flick of all time.  The genius of these films continues with the second film, The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (Zoku Zatoici Monogatari)… and steady gets worse and worse (in my opinion).  But nothing can change the brilliance of the first two films.  Even today, there doesn’t exist a movie to compare with these….   or is there?


  • Is there indeed a martial art film that can compare with the splendor that is Zatoichi?
  • If you agree with me… what might your favorite Zatoichi film be (out of the 26 that exists)?
  • Might you have a favorite scene?
  • What draws you to the character of Zatoichi?
  • Why can new films never capture the brilliance their predecessors?

Can’t wait to hear you guys’ response!


~ by chencenter on March 27, 2008.

22 Responses to “Zatoichi. Is there a Film that Compares…?”

  1. ok. Had lots of responses from my note on Facebook. Here’s what was said.

    Andrei Popov (Montreal,QC)-Hero, Fearless, Kiss of the Dragon, Fist of Legend, Twin Warriors with Jet Li
    Yojimbo,Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa, my first martial arts flick was Judo Saga.

    Michael Joyce (author)-wooo can’t believe I forgot to mention Fist of Legend. and as for Yojimbo…I watched that a few weeks ago.

    Adam Davis (NC)- Chinese Connection, anybody??

    Francois Biron (Montreal,QC)-Zatoichi is the best!!!!!!!!ichiban my man@!

  2. Is there indeed a martial art film that can compare with the splendor that is Zatoichi?

    What about Rush Hour 3?

    No… okay.

  3. I have not seen this but will make a point to get it… Thanks Michael!

  4. Richard- You’ve got me scratching my head on that one! Although, I actually JUST recently saw #2 and was impressed. Huge Jackie fan. But seriously, try to find either The Tale of Zatoichi or The Tale of Zatoichi Continues on dvd. 🙂 You won’t be disappointed.

    J- Yay! It’s subtitled and black & white (just so’s you knos) Jenny either has to be really in the mood to watching a foreign film like that… or so exhausted she really doesn’t care (but then, she’s not paying attention). Tell me how you like it though… promise?

  5. Thanks for the recommendation! Unfortunately, I just went to add it to my blockbuster que only to find that they don’t carry it. Bummer.

  6. that bites. looks like you’ll just have to buy it then Aaron. don’t worry, if you buy it for $15 you can sell it for $15. zatoichi will never lose value

  7. i actually think my dad was gonna order one on netflix?? haha regardless, i want to see one of the zatiochi films:)

    and my favorite martial arts movies are fearless, kung fu hustle and shaolin soccer:)

  8. yeah… at least that’s what he told me he was gonna do. you gotta watch it yourself before he gives it back. And I love fearless… but haven’t seen the other two. seemed a risky $5 rental. are they funny?

  9. yep Zatoichi is next up in my netflix queue. Kung Fu Hustle is one of my favorite movies kung fu or otherwise, Shaolin Soccer is good too.

  10. kung fu hustle and shaolin soccer are both by the same guy, he directs, produces and acts in all his movies.

    truthfully, both of them are pretty cheesy 🙂

    but its got a little bit of everything in it- action, drama, romance, comedy etc.

  11. sorry i’m like attacking your blog with comments! 🙂 haha, but the best non-martial arts movie ever is “once”.

    you might not like it though, its one of those personal preferences things…but who knows! not alot of people know it even exists! haha

  12. I agree with 3 of Andrei Popov’s choices. Mine are Twin Warriors, Fist of Legend and Fearless, all Jet Li–with Twin Warriors being my number 1. Twin Warriors is #1 for me because: 1. Jet Li becomes better after being in nature (as in Fearless –rice paddie scenes). 2. There are women kicking butt 3. The friendship theme, 3. Good/Evil theme & 4. Jet Li gets better after learning more Tai Chi !! He becomes a Tai Chi master! It has all of my favorite things. In Fist of Legend I like when they are fighting blindfolded–almost like Zatoici. I plan on watching Zatoici soon. I suggested it for my circle of friends “movie night.” Everyone is excited and they think that I am so cool because I suggested it. How this blog has helped my social life! –Mike feel free to edit– etc.

  13. Actually, Rush Hour 3 was better than #2!

    For best of the best, I would definitely include Shadowless Sword and Kung Fu Hustle.

    Best of the worst: Karate and Circle of Iron.

  14. I love all of the Zatoichi films! There are martial arts films I love just as much but I can’t think of a hero that is the equal of Ichi!

  15. I agree, I am still collecting Zatoichi, the movies and the tv series. This is the best I have ever seen. Not so because of the action. There is lots of that in other movies. It the substance that the charater of Shintaro Katsu carries. It is humble, admirable, amazing. I definetely place Zatoichi (w/ Katsu) at the very top of my movie lists. It is unbeatable. If you want to watch a movie with action and yet enough substance for you to learn something about the realities of life, take some time and watch Zatoichi. I have watched these movies and I am pretty much begining to understand Japanese. Well worth it!

  16. ….NO. I’m 69 yo, been watching movies & TV since 1949. In fact
    i’ve lived in JAPAN for about 16 mos fm 1959-1960.
    The reason I’ve logged onto this site is because I want to ac-
    quire the complete ZATO ICHI series on DVE. Can any of you help?
    BILL. (eMail me… Domo.

  17. No…I want to acquire the COMPLETE ZI dvd collection. Can any-body help me, or supply a link. domo

  18. Michael, Penny and I are back from England. Se you tomorrow evening for Tai Chi. Adrian

  19. i was 8 years old when i saw the very first film of shintaro katsu as zatoichi the blind awordsman in manila, philippines at the hollywood theatre, there’s no way any other samurai movie that can match the the blind swordsman movies starring shintaro katsu during the 1960’s

  20. i was only 8 years old when i saw the very first movie of the blind swordsman starring shintaro katsu. there is no other samurai movie that could ever match the 1960’s the blind swordsman of shintaro katsu,for me he is the original blind swordsman.

  21. No! The Zatoichi films do not get worse and worse! Where on Earth do you get that from? In some ways, they get better! I enjoyed the first, and I have the first two 4-disc boxsets from HVE/Image, plus the 7 disc from Animeigo (all of which are available plus all the rest, on for those people who were asking where to get them). The only “slight” critisism I’ve had of one or two, are the strange, sudden abrupt endings. But I’d still end up with a feeling of great contentment after watching! I think you should consider watching the others again! I’ve heard the television series is really good, as well. Finally, though I like the six “Lone Wolf and Cub” movies, which I think were actually directed by Shintaro Katsu, (who plays Zatoichi), I like the Zatoichi movies better, because of the stronger element of human emotion. I’m guessing “Lone Wolf and Cub” were probably the first to show such graphic violence, back in the early ’70s.

  22. Oh yes! Just read somewhere that the two (Zatoichi and Lone Wolf) were brothers in real life, the last names being different because of different fathers, perhaps? Tomisaburo Wakayama (Lone Wolf), was not only directed by Shintaro Katsu in the entire series, but also played Zatoichi’s opponent in the first Zatoichi film, I think it was the first. Chencenter (Michael?), you would know!

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