Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo promises an epic Kaiju battle between two of Japan’s greatest action heroes. Like many films that make such great promises it’s only partially kept. Zatoichi finds a town corrupted by gang warfare and as in most town’s corrupted by gang warfare Yojimbo is waiting in the wings. Though the two are originally pitted against each other they eventually find that their mutual love of kicking yards of ass can overcome whatever personal differences they might have.
While Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo is certainly a fun watch, it gets bogged down in the repetitive and overly convoluted nature of the plots that plague the Zatoichi films. A much bigger problem is that Mifune is not playing anywhere near the top of his game. I mentioned in my review of Red Sun that he seemed to be coasting. Well his turn in Zatoichi makes his turn in Red Sun look like his performance in High And Low. Now granted, what he is coasting on is one of the most charismatic, compelling persona’s in the history of cinema. Like Robert Mitchum there is no such thing as an unenjoyable Toshiro Mifune role, which is not to say it there is no such thing as a bad one.
Still its just disappointing that his return to the character is so meager, particularly given that his agreeing to reprise the character reportedly let to the final cracking of his strained relationship with Kurosawa.
His Yojimbo isn’t the uber proficient amoral sociopath from the original. Not even the gruff, crafty, paternalist from Sanjuro. Instead he plays him so he’s nearly buffoonish, a charismatic drunk whose good with a sword and has veins of badassery woven through. True in the end he does tap into the disdain that powers Yojimbo to greater effect and he’s as ruthless with a sword as ever. But then comes a plot twist at the end that can only be described as a heap of bullshit. On the whole, It’s hard to tell why the film is named Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, when it could have just as easily been called Zatoichi Meets Toshiro Mifune.
Like all Zatoichi films the climax is a hell of a show stopper (particularly grim after such a light in tone film), the productions values are excellent, as is the fight choreography and Shintaro Katsu remains that rare commodity, a man likable enough to conceivably build a 30 film series around. Unfortunately this time all that standard issue carries with it a whiff of missed opportunity. Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo is no better or worse then any of the other Zatoichi films, but given the materials and potential that can’t help but feel like something of a failure this time out.