The 25-part film series about the blind swordsman Zatoichi roaming through Japan was delivered between 1962 and 1973, a productivity that comic artist Willy Vandersteen (Suske en Wiske) could take a hit on in his heyday. This episode, the penultimate, is directed by the protagonist himself, Shintarô Katsu. Again a nice story unfolds.
Zatoichi is once again in a difficult position. He wants to ransom a prostitute to give her a good life after the death of her mother, but does so with gambled money from the gang that runs the brothel, the gang against which he also has to compete. Thus our Good Samaritan becomes entangled in a patriarchal system of men who own women and even develops some romantic interest in the life of the blind loner. You see him struggling with his involuntary loneliness.
“Zatoichi in Desperation” is a pretty dark episode anyway, especially since the violence of the yakuza (Japanese mafia) is excessive and at times shocking; certainly less cartoonish than in other Zatoichis. For example, a disabled boy is assaulted and a child throwing stones is murdered; the older sister – an aspiring hooker – then walks out of grief with the corpse into the sea, never to return. The film is also often set in the dark and in the daylight the endless sea is the background to the events; furthermore, the mysterious, experimental western music is a strong atmospheric element in the film.
Zatoichi’s dilemma in his relationship with the blasted prostitute Nishikigi – a beautiful role by Kiwako Taichi – and the melancholy atmosphere around the broken lives of the main characters give the film added value compared to other films in the series, especially because the similarities with other episodes are still quite big. This also ends in a group fight and the opponent is always cowardly and badly through and through. In “Zatoichi in Desperation”, a famous samurai joins in as an adversary to add shine to Zatoichi’s victories. The disruptive role of a beautiful woman in a violent man’s world is proven once again, with Nishikigi as Helen of Troy. Shintarô Katsu, however, is not devoted to turtledove pigeons; he lets his two protagonists walk out of the screen independently of each other. There is no other way, because Zatoichi is always on his way elsewhere, until a chance meeting leads to a new adventure.