Zatoichi on IFC

…or Why Saturday Mornings Once Again Make Feel Like They Did When I Was A Kid

image, shintaro jatsu zatoichiAt least  in cinematic terms, the world is looking pretty good to me these days. Harry Potter just came out, The Fellowship of the Ring is a month away, Star Wars: Episode 2 is due in May and Hong Kong related stars/directors and films are a pretty hot commodity. Up until recently there was only one thing missing and thanks to the good folks over at the Independent Film Channel even that, slightly more obscure void has been filled.

See, IFC has started a series showcasing Japanese Samurai films (hereafter referred to as Chambara) on Saturdays. This is a really cool thing since Chambara of the 50s, 60s and 70s have been my main cinematic focus for the last year and a half since they directly influenced the Hong Kong martial arts movies that followed them and, for all practical purposes, I’ve run out of Hong Kong movies that I want to watch and can get my hands on. What’s even better about this is they’re starting with the Zatoichi series. That’s really neat because; (a) I love the Zatoichi films and the character more than any other comparable series or character in the history of genre cinema (seriously, watching a Zatoichi makes me straight up gleeful. I’m addicted to this series.) and (b) I get to walk around saying things like’ “Oh yeah, IFC is showing Samurai pictures on Saturdays. Here we go again. First Hong Kong movies, now Chambara. I’m starting to look like a fucking cinematic prophet pointing out the cool stuff years in advance.”

I’ll be able to ride that act for months before people start to take me too seriously.

For the uninitiated, the series focuses on the exploits of a wandering blind swordsman named Ichi. As was typical in Japan at the time, he earns his living as a masseur, so he’s commonly known as Zatoichi (short for Zato- No- Ichi which translate to, surprise-surprise,  “Ichi the Masseur.”) Played with prodigious charm by superstar actor/ writer/ director/ producer Shintaru Katsu (1931-1997), Ichi is a mix between Chaplin’s Little Tramp, a practically invincible avenging angel of death and pretty much everything in between. He’s a friend to children (like Gamera), he’s got a way with women (every other film has some beautiful woman falling head over heels for the noble swordsman,) he’s got an honorable steak a mile long, he’s an expert gambler (often cheating the cheats who try to take advantage of his blindness,) he’s funny, smart, cunning and he’s able to take on dozens of sword-wielding gangsters at a time without receiving so much as a scratch. So I say, “what more could you ask for?” Then I answer, “Nothing.”

Check these films out.  If you’ve got a sense of humor, a sweet spot and don’t mind a little blood then I can’t recommend them enough.

  • December 8 Masseur Ichi and the Chest of Gold (1:23:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 2:00PM/ET)
  • December 15 Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (1:22:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 2:30PM/ET)
  • December 22 The Adventures of a Blind Man (1:26:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 2:00PM/ET)
  • December 29 Fight, Zatoichi, Fight!! (1:30:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 2:00PM/ET)
  • January 5 Blind Swordsman’s Revenge (1:24:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 2:00PM/ET)
  • January 12 Zatoichi And The Doomed Man (1:28:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 2:00PM/ET)
  • January 19 The Blind Swordsman And The Chess Expert (1:30:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 4:00PM/ET)
  • January 26 The Blind Swordsman’s Vengeance (1:23:00) at 8:00AM/ET (encores at 4:00PM/ET)

This article was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in December 2001.