Yes, I know it’s overdue, but here is my personal take on “The Fugitive.”
Zatoichi “The Fugitive” is the fourth in the Zatoichi series that centers on a blind man wandering the Japanese countryside, ostensibly making his living as a masseur. In reality, though, he is a professional gambler, a Yakuza (members of traditional, organized crime syndicates in Japan) and most importantly, an outstanding swordsman. Zatoichi is a master of the “iaido” style—that consisting of the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword back into the scabbard.
Like most blind people, Zatoichi possesses extremely heightened remaining senses. His senses are so sharp, in fact, that he can hear the way dice role in a cup, differentiate between a man and a woman by their distinctive scents, and use his swordsmanship with deadly precision and lighting speed. All of these abilities go a long way in keeping him alive in a time and place abounding in death.
In “The Fugitive,” Zatoichi strolls into a town that is in the midst of hosting a Sumo wrestling match. Ichi decides to participate in the Japanese tradition and wins the requisite five matches to take the tournament, while the local Yakuza loose face, since they were beaten by a blind man. After the matches have ended, Ichi is enjoying a snack next to a pond when he is attacked by local scoundrel trying to capture the 10 ryo (gold currency used during the period weighing about 16.5 grams) bounty that was placed on Ichi’s head. Ichi cautions the man to discontinue the attacks, but his warnings go unheeded. Ichi makes quick work of the man, and while he is dying, Ichi is able to find out the name of the mother of his latest victim.
Ichi sets out to—and does—find the dead man’s mother (herself a Yakuza) and begs for her forgiveness. While apologizing, Ichi stumbles upon a local Yakuza power struggle, takes the side of the underdog, and eventually restores the balance of power, ending a violent turf war and returning the town to a state of peace.
While intervening in this struggle, Ichi is forced again to deal with the bounty on his head as well as with a skilled, angry Ronin. In the end, Ichi and the Ronin fight a grueling battle, and Ichi, again, is the warrior left standing.
I must profess–I love the entire Zatoichi series and have all 26 movies. While the general storyline in “The Fugitive” constitutes the basis for each of the Zatoichi films, they are all enjoyable individually and stand up well on their own. Many of the original Ichi movies surprisingly contain a fair amount of humor, unlike the 2003 remakethough, which was a grim and bloody tale of the blind man’s journey.
I agree with my counterpart’s (Silver) review in several respects. First, the Lone Wolf and Cub series (also one of my favorites) plays on the same general theme. One could easily conclude that both of these series reflect the sentiments of Japanese movie culture popular at the time. More importantly, I also agree with Silver in that this is not a Yojimbo or some other cinematic masterpiece, nor was it meant to be. These movies were made to be enjoyed by a more general, mainstream audience and they were obviously very successful at doing so.
Despite its age, the movie is about 40 years old, “Zatoichi—The Fugitive” continues to entertain and provides an excellent representation of period Asian Samurai cinema.