When he first appeared in 1962 in what was meant to be just a single film, The Tale of Zatoichi, Zatoichi (Shintarô Katsu) the blind swordsman became a hit with audiences and Daiei Studios decided to make the most of his popularity. They ended up making 25 movies from 1962 to 1973.
In 1964 when Fight, Zatoichi, Fight hit screeens, it was already the eighth movie in the series. By now though the series had settled into a groove, usually Zatoichi would end up in a town, he would gamble and someone would try and cheat him, maybe a woman would fall in love with him and he would end up helping some people while being hunted by bad guys.
Someone bad was always hunting Zatoichi by this point. With the day saved Zatoichi would continue on his way. Despite the formula the movies would constantly try and change things up little without deviating too much and the cinematography was great with usually a couple of brilliantly photographed scenes in every movie.
Fight, Zatoichi, Fight starts off with a group of men who are hunting Ichi (they always shorten down his name to Ichi) down for a reward and fame. They stop a pilgrimage of blind men looking for him but the blind men have hidden Ichi and the assassins leave empty handed. Ichi and the blind men all have a good laugh at how they have outwitted the sighted and Ichi goes on his way. A couple of Kago bearers (it’s kind of carrier/litter) have an empty Kago and offer Ichi a ride for a discount so they don’t have to make the journey back without any fare. Ichi agrees and they start traveling but the assassins see Ichi get into the Kago and race to ambush them up the road.
Ichi only gets a short distance before they come across an exhausted woman carrying a baby who has collapsed on the road. Ichi gives her the Kago and continues on foot. Unfortunately the assassins don’t realize there’s been a switch and attack the Kago killing the woman. The men carrying her flee and find Ichi. Ichi discovers that the baby is still alive. The local village comes to help and discover that the woman was traveling home to her husband who left her to work off his debt at an inn. Zatoichi decides to take the baby to the father along with a lock of the dead woman’s hair.
Meanwhile the assassins still are trying to kill Ichi and join up with another group. When they next attack Ichi asks if this can wait until he delivers the baby but is attacked anyway. Ichi continues his journey while trying to care for the baby. He ends up recruiting a female thief to help him along the way. When he finally reaches the village of the husband he discovers the husband is a little more of jerk than Ichi realized. The husband hoping to become a yakuza boss purposely left his wife and baby. He then denies that the child is his. Ichi decides to keep the baby while the husband schemes with the assassins to kill Ichi.
Zatoichi trying to care for the child while fighting off assassins at every corner reminds me a little of Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub about an assassin who travels with his infant son while taking on assassination jobs. The main difference is that the child isn’t Ichi’s but he does come to care for it. In fact the woman thief wants them to forgot about their current lives and just settle down to raise the child. Ichi though knows that there is no such peace for a person like himself.
There’s a moment early on where Ichi is standing near a creek carrying the baby listening to a young woman walk back and forth on a small bridge singing a lullaby to her baby. The song sticks with Ichi knowing that he’s the cripple in the song that bobs in and out of sight. And while the story mostly follows the standard Zatoichi formula the overall tone of the movie is a bit of melancholy one for Ichi can only be a drifter and a gambler forever fighting and wandering.