The Skinny: The first and one of the best films in this long-running series, The Life and Opinion of Masseur Ichi is must viewing for fans of samurai cinema, Japanese cinema or action films in general. Shintaru Katsu’s charming portrayal of Ichi, the blind wandering masseur with a lightning fast draw, and the strong threads of humanity and humor that run throughout the film (and continue throughout the series) make this a perfect introduction to one of Japanese cinema’s most beloved characters. Everything that makes Ichi special is present and accounted for here: his innate sense of right and wrong, his amazing way with women, his bumbling charm, his quick wit, and, of course, plenty of work with his deadly cane sword.
As if that weren’t enough (and it is) there’s another element that makes this film worthwhile- the inspired casting of Raizu Ichiwaka as Sir Hirate Riki, Zatoichi’s friend and eventual rival. The balance between Ichiwaka’s elegant, handsome, tragic ronin and Katsu’s waddling, comic Ichi is perfect. As a side note, Ichiwaka is probably best known for portraying Kyoshiro Nemuri in the also recommended "Sleepy Eyes of Death" series, (the first of which is available in the States as Sleepy Eyes of Death: the Chinese Jade.) He doesn’t display his "Full Moon Cut" in Life and Opinion…, but the charismatic actor is memorable in his role as the staid, classy samurai.
All in all, this is an excellent film for genre fans and a very good one for everyone else. Well worth your time. Check it out.
This review was originally published on DrunkenFist.com in August 2001.