Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (Kihachi Okamoto / Japan, 1970):

The artful tortoise and the dissolute tiger. It begins amid a blood-spattered downpour with a dash of The Seven Samurai and continues to settle matters with Kurosawa, even adventures can take their toll on the hero ("I've had my fill of hell"). The blind masseur Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) yearns for the scent of plums in the peaceful village and finds rot instead, stolen gold and feuds involving the silk merchant (Osamu Takizawa) and his two sons (Masakane Yonekura, Toshiyuki Hosokawa) have darkened the landscape. He arrives with blade sheathed in cane and a trio of boors readily demand a rubdown, a run of the hand recognizes their Yakuza tattoos and within moments all three are down with dislocated shoulders. Elsewhere, the wandering bodyguard (Toshiro Mifune) marinates in drink and irritability. "Quit worrying! You're going to make my saké taste like piss." Kihachi Okamoto has just the vigorous technique for these developments and demolitions, figures tear like dervishes through his massive melees and then there's a still glance of the sightless hero bumbling up a few flights of stairs as if in a Tati dollhouse. To "light the fuse at both ends" is the strategy, which gives the swordsmanship of the two eponymous icons along with their vaudeville-duo comedy—Katsu slicing through a gaggle of foes before giggling at one his own little puns, Mifune rousing himself out of grouchy torpor to mock the word "sensei." Their showdown is an abridged spin (cp. Astaire and Kelly in Ziegfeld Follies), the true contest is for the fallen courtesan (Ayako Wakao) who wishes they'd just get on with it already. Wind lashes the crossover crossroads at the close, the gold dust secreted inside stone idols blows away à la Treasure of the Sierra Madre. With Shin Kishida, Kanjuro Arashi, and Shigeru Koyama.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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