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Another solid entry in the Zatoichi saga, Zatoichi and the Chess Expert is the 12th film and one of multiple crosses and secrets held by it's characters. Nobody is really who they seem and makes for a more entertaining and less predictive than others in the series. There is a lot that viewers of the previous films will find similiar here but the storyline is more fresh and as stated earlier, benefits from it's character's complexities and secrets.
Zatoichi and the Chess Expert reminds you of what a great series this really is. It sticks to the tried and tested formula, but adds unforgettable moments of humanity and emotion. Zatoichi, in a first in the series, make a number of mistakes, reminding us that he is human. He loses a chess match, and for once he isn't trying to deceive his opponent. Then, he gets caught off guard, in a scene that has you genuinely worried about his safety. This scuffle also results in a young girl being hurt. Zatoichi's (usually) flawless trickery when betting also goes wrong and for once he dwells on his mistake. In one scene Zatoichi searches through the mud for a box of medicine he has dropped. We can see the box just to his right, but for the first time you feel as though Zatoichi feels beaten by his blindness. There's something desperate in Katsu's performance that displays a new found vulnerability. We are also lucky to have a fantastic "villain" played by the wonderful Narita. He is an intellectual equal, if not a physical one. They begin a friendship that echoes the one in the first film and Narita even offers to be Zatoichi's bodyguard. If this wasn't enough Zatoichi also becomes involved in a complex romance. It's an excellent film in it's own right, pushing out the violence during the middle of the film, in order to focus on character. The editing also really shines in this film, as we see Zatoichi leave a room and slowly go for his sword as Narita goes for his back inside the room. It's a silent moment of pure tension. As part of the series, it is the jolt that it (being the 12th film in the series) really HAD to be.
More great Zatoichi action.
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