Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi
"Even with my eyes wide open, I can't see a thing."
— Zatoichi (2003)
The Zatoichi series is one of Japan's longest running media franchises
, with a total of 29 films and a 100-episode television series. The series centers around Ichi, an itinerant blind
masseur who happens to be one of the most fearsome and dangerous swordsmen around, amassing a mind bogglingly high body count mostly consisting of yakuza
, corrupt government flunkies and mountains of Mooks
. In between bouts of derring-do, the blind anma
can be found gambling, meeting quirky sidekicks, or unearthing vast tracts of mysterious past.
The first 26 films (1962-1973, 1989) and the television series (1974-1979) all starred the same actor, Shintaro Katsu, whose portrayal endeared the character to many fans until the actor's death in 1997.
In 2003, Takeshi Kitano
played Zatoichi in a Continuity Reboot
film which he also directed. A loose sequel film to Katsu's Zatoichi with a female protagonist, Ichi
, was released in 2008. Another reboot called Zatoichi: The Last
was released in 2010. Also, an American re-imagining called Blind Fury
was made in 1989, starring Rutger Hauer
, based off of the 17th Zatoichi film, Zatoichi Challenged.
The influence of this series is hard to overestimate, at least, in terms of blind badassery, which, while certainly not the first example of a Handicapped Badass
, is certainly one of the Trope Codifiers
This series contains examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Ichi's cane sword can cut diagonally through statues, easily cut katanas in half, and of course, kill people in a single swipe.
- Bad Ass: Just about all the heroes. Ichi specifically is of the Handicapped Badass variety.
- Blind Weaponmaster: Ichi.
- Catch Phrase: Darkness is my advantage (Kurayami nara kocchi no mon da). Usually uttered after he cuts down the nearest lanterns and candles to put opponents on an equal footing.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: In the 2003 film, Ichi kills 5 ninjas with the usual lack of effort.
- Crossover: Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.
- Cultured Badass: Ichi can not only swordfight, he's a successful masseur. Sometimes he also shows off his musical ability and knowledge of acupuncture.
- Distaff Counterpart: She even has the same name.
- It's because she's his daughter.
- Downer Ending: The first movie, The Tale of Zatoichi, ends with Ichi's only friend in town dead at his hand, the opposing mafia slaughtered along with many of the innocents of their half of the village, and Ichi misses the woman that loves him by virtue of walking the wrong way.
- Dual Wielding: In Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, Ichi wields his cane sword and a katana that he grabbed off of a samurai he killed.
- End of an Age: The 2003 film seems to take place towards the end of the Edo period, if the presence of a roughly Civil War-era revolver is any indication.
- Fate Worse Than Death: In the 2003 Movie, Ichi slashes the Big Bad right in the eyes. Sentencing him to live his last remaining years struggling in darkness.
- Genre Savvy: Ichi, frequently. In Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, Ichi at first doesn't go to the hometown of the eponymous "Doomed Man" at his request, because doing that always gets him into trouble.
- Handicapped Badass: One of the most famous.
- High Pressure Blood: Probably one of the oldest examples.
- Given the fact that the 2003 Film was directed by "Beat" Takeshi Kitano (a Comedian), every cut is intentionally Bloody Hilarious.
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi isn't actually blind, but chooses to close his eyes as a Self-Imposed Challenge.
- Or is he? The final line of the film is that he can't even see with his eyes open, having tripped over an small stone. This appears to be some sort of double bluff, and makes sense since he looks like he has cataracts.
- Iaijutsu Practitioner: One of the better moves is when the various mooks think they've got the drop on him, only for him to draw his sword and kill them in a split second.
- Implausible Swordfighting Powers Most of Ichi's enemies never even hit Ichi's sword, he simply cuts them down without effort in a single slash, including highly touted samurai.
- Jidaigeki: The 2003 Movie though seems to take place towards the tail-end of the Edo period, just before the Meiji Restoration and the massive wave of modernization that followed.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Averted, Ichi instead carries a shikomi-zue, or sword cane. Justified since blades are supposed to be outlawed in the Edo period.
- Knight Errant
- Love Triangle: Ichi becomes involved in one in Zatoichi The Fugitive (1963)
- Meaningful Name: Ichi
- Mysterious Past: Ichi
- Obfuscating Disability: The Kitano version. Though at the end it establishes he was just bluffing.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Ichi, sometimes.
- Reverse Grip: How Ichi holds his sword. Since he uses his sword as a cane as well, this is justified so Ichi does not need to change his grip.
- Revival: The 1989 movie Zatoichi (subtitled Darkness Is His Ally for the US) is Katsu's swan-song for the character. It's Bloodier and Gorier and Hotter and Sexier than any before it, and since Katsu is pushing 60 Ichi is now a Cool Old Guy.
- Samurai and Ronin (Ichi himself technically does not qualify as either of them, as he's in the blind men's guild) He does kill quite a few of them in his movies, though.
- Super Senses: Ichi's hearing.
- Sword Cane: Ichi
- Underestimating Badassery: Most of the villains in the series do this in regards to Ichi.
- Victorian Novel Disease: Hirate (from the first film) is dying of consumption.
- Walking the Earth
- Worthy Opponent: The ronin Hirate in the first film. He and Ichi held great respect for each other.
- Wholesome Crossdresser:In the Kitano film, one of the geisha is a little... different under the kimono.
- Yakuza: Ichi's enemies are often gangsters.
- You Look Familiar: Quite a few mooks appear in other Zatoichi films, but Tatsuo Endo appears as the Big Bad of five different Zatoichi films and as a minor character in a sixth.