Blind Man’s Bluff
In a series as long as Zatoichi (26 films in total) you are bound to have some hits and misses. By any standards “Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire” (Japanese title: “Zatoichi abare-himatsur” or “Zatoich: The Raging Fire Festival”) is a full-fledged home run.
First, let’s talk about that cast. Aside from Zatoichi himself, Katsu Shintaro, you have the amazing actor Nakadai Tatsuya (Harakiri, The Sword of Doom), the flamboyant Peter (best known as the jester Kyoami in Ran, or the voice of Rem in Death Note II: The Last Name) and making his final film appearance Mori Masayuki (Ugetsu, Bushido, The Bad Sleep Well). Back in the director’s chair is original “Zatoichi” director Misumi Kenji (The Tale of Zatoichi). That is some serious talent coming together for a “Zatoichi” flick.
Plot-wise, it is a classic set up. Zatoichi rescues a beautiful young woman who has fallen on hard times and was forced to sell herself. Her jealous ex-husband however, (Nakadai) follows her killing anyone who has touched her, finally killing the woman herself. He thinks that Zatoichi is one of his wife’s purchasers, and so dedicates himself to slaying the blind masseur. Zatoichi, on the other hand, has other things going on when he comes across the promotion ceremony for a new yakuza boss and promptly inserts himself. The boss (Mori) is a blind man like Zatoichi himself, and serves as Zatoichi’s opposite, immune to his usual tricks. Complicating matters even further is a young pimp (Peter) looking to get himself in good with the mob boss while still remaining essentially a pure heart. As you can guess, swords are drawn, alliances are created and broken, friends become enemies and enemies friends, and Zatoichi’s cane sword will run red with blood before the final credits roll.
There is lots of good stuff going on in “Zatoichi: Festival of Fire.” Nakadai’s character is almost a re-play of “Sword of Doom,” a man so dead inside he kills without joy or remorse. His desire to kill Zatoichi is not based on revenge or passion, as he has killed too many over his wife’s betrayal. Being the last on his list, Zatoichi is all that keeps him going, and he knows when he has struck the blind man down the next act will be to take his own life. Mori is a classic character as well, charming and sensitive on the surface but hiding a black heart. Being blind himself, he is immune to Zatoichi’s tricks, as he shows them when the two set down to gamble at dice.
Animeigo has done their usual top notch job with this release. Not a lot of extras or anything, but they have the best subtitles available for Japanese films, and always treat every movie with respect and care. “Zatoichi: Festival of Fire” is also available as part of the Zatoichi – The Blind Swordsman DVD Collector’s Edition Box.