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on December 28, 2007
The chess player is not as central to the story as Zato's own internal conflict over his gangster lifestyle, which causes the near death of a young child. Zato is most compelling in his efforts to save the child and this film features a gripping and memorable scene where Zato looses some medicine he had just procured for the girl. It is Zatoichi's driving compassion that engages the viewer here more than the suspense between Zato and the chess master. You just know those two are going to brawl. I thought more could have been done with the chess metaphor and the calculation of made by characters throughout the film.
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on March 19, 2014
I liked it because it brought a different element with that samurai being a chess master. I also liked the part where they are playing a game of chess and the samurai asks Zatoichi " isn't Zatoichi the name for any particular masseur of a certain rank or degree", or words to that effect. Then Zatoichi tells him "in my case it also happens to be my real name", so the samurai kind of makes a joke about it and say "so you're Kanonoichi" or just plain old Ichi. But long story made short the movie looked pretty sharp and cleaned up. It had a good story to it just like all the other Zatoichi films.
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on December 31, 2016
Most excellent movie. The Zatoichi series is amazing as I first saw it small kid time in Hawaii. It is good story line and compassion with amazing sword choreographic scenes. Recommended for anyone who enjoy Samurai action movies.

David O
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on January 5, 2017
One of the better Zatoichi films (and all 25 of the original series were excellent). Less fighting than some of his films but a first class story and a couple great fight scenes.
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on November 9, 2017
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on May 29, 2017
the best of the epic
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on January 24, 2016
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on January 3, 2013
I will not bother to write a different review for each Zatoichi movie. I have all twenty six of his movies and have watched all of them multiple times. Although the believability of a blind swordsman is next to nill, Zatoichi makes it believable because you will fall in love with the character. Shintaro Katsu is one of my all time favorite actors.
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VINE VOICEon November 29, 2005
The state of blindness does not hinder the swordsman masseur, Zato Ichi, in this well-crafted tale of pre-modern Japan, as he is determined to do what is correct by assisting a young girl's recovery from a severe wound suffered in tangential fashion during a sword-fight involving gangsters in the bandit-ridden country. Of the approximately 25 Zato Ichi films, this must rank as one of the better ones, as Shintaro Katsu who portrays the sightless samurai during the entire series, permits us to see more of the inner man behind the warrior facade, aided by an interesting story written by Kan Shimozawa, who contributes the most complex scenarios of this group of works. In early civilized Japan, all masseurs were blind, as then they could not look upon the bodies of their clients, and Zato Ichi ("Ichi the Masseur") is following this tradition, but he is as well an inordinately successful warrior with his cane sword, mastering with cold aplomb each challenge by aggressors, no matter how many they might be. Ichi is a prototypical loner who makes his way in this work, as in all others, by massaging, while handsomely adding to his income through his cheating skills at gambling, since he is also an inveterate confidence man, yet one who makes mistakes and these errors in judgement serve in strengthening his accessibility to the viewer. There is a pleasingly intricate plot, which places Ichi as a travelling companion of an itinerant samurai named Jumonji, played well by Mikio Narita in his first cinematic role, who is the chess expert of the English language title, and the two interact with several other groups of characters in a neatly-woven narrative. The complicated scenario is capably handled by veteran director of samurai motion pictures, Kenji Misumi, who later added other outstanding Zato Ichi films to this first one in his list, as he balances the interwoven dramatics neatly and nicely. Reasons for the societal and artistic success of this series are manifest in this film, wherein Ichi represents values which most peoples are struggling to identify and capture, with the blind swordsman becoming an iconic figure as he stumbles and totters, rather than riding, into the sunset, after completing his clash with evil.
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A chess master, one who is so jealous of his own talent that he kills any player who beats him. A woman, disguised as a man, traveling with her brother and fleeing some unknown hunter. A beautiful, gentle lady and her wounded child, dying but without money to buy medicine. A blind masseur, with an uncanny swiftness and ability with a sword. These are the cast of characters that set the stage for the 12th Zatoichi film, "Zatoichi and the Chess Expert" ("Zatoichi Jigoku tabi:" literal translation "Zatoichi's Trip to Hell.")

This is one of the best Zatoichi films that I have seen. The characters make for an interesting mix, each likable and formidable in their own way, but each harboring secrets that make them vipers hidden in the brush. The Chess Expert becomes Zatoichi's ally and traveling companion, each maximizing on the talents of the other to earn money. And Zatoichi needs money, to buy medicine for the poor child who was wounded in a sword fight that the masseur was involved in. The child's mother, beautiful and sorrowful, falls slowly in love with Zatoichi, even though she must betray him. The sister and brother are wild cards, somehow shattering the peace of the trip, as murder follows in their wake.

It all comes to an explosive finish, with companions battling companions, and secrets stripped bare. The melancholy love between Zatoichi and the beautiful woman is heart rending, though doomed. An excellent chambara flick all around, and a great Zatoichi film.
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