Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Zato No-Ichi

About ten years before Kung Fu and David Carredine captured our mystic Eastern hearts there was Zatoichi.

Ich-san was a masseuse and he was blind. He was a minor gangster and a heavy gambler.
And Ich-san was a samurai. Inside his innocuous walking stick was a deadly sword.

At least a full ten years before we watched as Master Po asked,
"Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?" Ichi was hearing everything that went on about him in exquisite detail.

He knew just where the opponents were standing and with five deftly placed "swishes" of his backwards held blade he would dispatch another five opponents.
He would hear when an unscrupulous dealer in dice switched cubes and invariably knew where the originals had been secreted.
He'd flash his sword, a sake bottle would fall in two and there were the original dice. Or in a bodice, hair, or kimono.
He could throw a coin into a sake bottle across the room. Or hit a moving target with a bow & arrow. Things a sighted person might have trouble achieving.

He took to children and women loved him. But...he was a loner. Always drifting from town to town.
Unlike Kung Fu there was no one underlying reason given for his wandering.
Even the opening of the 1960s television show was copied by Kung Fu - a sunrise over an nondescript landscape.

The writing was very thin.
Defending the lowly peasants from Yakuza (gangsters) or corrupt officials.
Ichi found a way to come between a boss and his money and make the down trodden smile with hope.

As I binged through the movies and then the television show I saw that several of the plot lines were repeated. None too far apart either.

A woman takes his place in a palaquin and is killed. Now he must deliver the child to what will turn out to be an unworthy father. The first time he must change the babies diapers the kids pees on his face and the line, "Oh, you must be a boy." is uttered.

Taken in context; after WWII Japanese culture was suppressed by calling it "Imperial Propaganda". Samurai movies were not available but John Ford Westerns still were and had been since about 1915.
As the 1950s dawned the local culture was being restored.

The mix of Western attitude with Eastern culture was a success and led to an entire body of work that spawned into what we call "Spaghetti Westerns," and eventually Star Wars.
(Tell me you never looked at Darth Vader and thought, "Hmmm?" And the Jedi use what? Swords? And Jedi is really a bastardization of "Jidai Geki" or Costume Drama)
The 13 Saumrai is the basis for The Magnificent Seven. It is almost identical, down to the final line of "The farmers are the winners."

Although every once in a while they throw you a curve and adapt a western classic. id est The Hidden Fortress is Macbeth.

Having a goofy blind man offering hope to the people of Japan seems natural in retrospect. Having him do the same for us seventy years later is remarkable.

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