The Life and Opinion of Masseur Ichi (Zatoichi Monogatari)
Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, has become one of the most popular characters in the history of Japanese Cinema. There have been more than 30 Zatoichi films, and several television series produced since 1960, all deriving from a character and situation invented by screenwriter Shigoro Yamamoto, the author of Red Beard, Sanjuro and Dodeska-Den. In all of them a blind masseur, always played by Shintaro Katsu (who also directs most of the films in the series), fights for virtue with a samurai sword concealed in a blindman's cane. Katsu is the poor man's Mifune, a short, broad actor of great energy, who plays laborers instead of samurai. (Katsu comes up against Mifune just once, in Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, ending in a blood-spattered draw.) As always with long film series like Zatoichi, the first film is one of the best. Rarely seen today, Zatoichi Monogatari was directed by Kenji Misumi, who also made a number of the early Zatoichi sequels.