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Zatoichi – A Samurai Hero

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Written by   629
1 year ago (Last updated: 10 months ago)

Zatoichi is a blind wanderer, gambler and masseur in Edo period Japan. However, that is a facade; in reality, he is a master swordsman. The stories about him are a mix of action and romanticism, sometimes with a dose of philosophy.

This is not a legend in the sense that it would be based on real figure from the past; Zatoichi is a fictitious character in literature and, above all, film. And he is not old; his first appearance was in a short story by Kan Shimozawa in 1948. But that story did not bring him out of obscurity. His fame came when actor Shintaru Katsu played Zatoichi in a movie based on the short story (The Tale of Zatoichi, 1962).

The success was total; during the years between 1962 and 1989, Shintaru Katsu played Zatoichi in another 24 movies and more than 100 episodes of a TV-series. This is the greatest hero ever in Japanese popular culture!

In 2003 came a remake, Zatoichi (without Shintaru Katsu); internationally, that is the best known Zatoichi movie, perhaps the only one most non-Japanese have seen. It's a pity, because it is just a pale imitation, hugely inferior to the original Zatoichi movies. Shintaru Katsu was Zatoichi; he was the one who carried the character.

Following the original movies in chronological order, one can follow a development and deepening both of the story and the character of Zatoichi. The movies slightly change style during that time, but they are all artistic masterpieces of their genre.

Shintaru Katsu was a son of a kabuki actor (kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre) and was originally a shamisen player (shamisen is a traditional Japanese musical instrument). During a visit to America he met James Dean, and that inspired him to focus on acting, although he played only small roles initially. It was in the role as Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, he found his true self as an actor, a role that made him grow to a great artist. Although Zatoichi is something else entirely, one can still see roots leading back to Kabuki.

Right now, a number of the original Zatoichi movies are available on internet – with subtitles in English. Anyone interested in Japan, Japanese culture or film in general, should take a look. These movies are genuine classics.

However, don't expect everything to be historically correct. Japanese samurai movies are much like western movies are in America; not genuine history, but fiction put in an historical environment. From case to case they can resemble the reality of the past more or less, but it is about literature and story-telling, not scientific history.

Zatoichi Movies in Japanese with English subtitles are available on https://jpfilms.online/tag/zatoichi.

Some of them are from time to time available on YouTube. Just search for “Zatoichi”.

The jpfilms website contains a large number of other Japanese movies as well.

(The lead image is a detail from a print by Kuniyoshi from 1827-1830, showing Gyokkirin Roshungi. It shows a warrior but has no connection to Zatoichi. For copyright reasons, I cannot show any image from the Zatoichi movies.)

Copyright © 2020 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

You find all my articles on Japanese Art & Culture here.

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Written by   629
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Comments

I only know one Japanese film director - Akiwa Kurosawa Did he also make films about Zatoichi? And when was the Edo period?

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1 year ago

I don't think Kurosawa made any film about Zatoichi.

The Edo period was 1603-1868. The longest time of peace in Japanese history. It coincides with the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Tokugawa clan moved the center of power to Edo when they established their Shogunate in 1603. When the Shogunate was abolished, during the Meiji restoration in 1868, Edo changed name to Tokyo, and the Edo period was at an end.

I will write an article about this soon. I am aware that many readers don't know what the Tokugawa Shogunate was.

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1 year ago

Thank you very much for the answer. I look forward to your further articles. I don't know anything about the Tokugawa Shogunate, but I'm sure I'll hear from you soon.😀

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1 year ago

Japan, legends and samurai...Can't find a more interesting mix than that. Japan has one of the richest folklores in the whole world.

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1 year ago

Yes, they have. It's a treasure for the imagination! A very rich folklore, art and history.

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1 year ago

Indeed. Does it bother you if i asked you to right more articles about Japanese horror folklore stories? They have very interesting stories!

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1 year ago

It doesn't bother me that you ask, then it's another matter if I do it:) Ok, I will keep it in mind. It will not come immediately though.

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1 year ago

lol i'm very fine with that haha. Actually i was expecting something like no sorry or something like that. so thanks :D

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1 year ago

I didn't promise anything, just to keep it in mind. We'll see.

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1 year ago

When I was child, Every friday a cartoon was telecast on television that name was ". Is the cartoon based on true story??

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1 year ago

Well, Zatoichi is not based on a true story or a true person; it is pure fiction, but of course it is inspired by samurai age history of Japan.

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1 year ago

Oohhh.. Actually I Don't know this. Now I know it by you. Thank you my dear friend. ❤

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1 year ago

Once again another interesting article that has inspired me to find out more about Zatoichi as well as the period of Japanese film making when the stories and films about him were so popular. Thank you and all the best,

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1 year ago

You're welcome. Nice that it inspires you to find out more. That's what an article ought to do, but one never knows... It requires an article and a reading mind being on the very same wavelength.

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1 year ago

This is an interesting short story about samaurai. Japane legebdary story is realy nice ro read

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1 year ago

Yes, indeed.

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1 year ago

This is an interesting short story about samaurai. Japane legebdary story is realy nice ro read

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1 year ago

Sorry this took so long for me to approve! I love Japanese movies. Now that I got rid of my other community articles submitted to TV and Film should be approved much faster.

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1 year ago

Just when I had submitted this, I learned about the coming rule that each article will soon only be allowed in one community. Since I have a whole community dedicated to Japanese culture, where I also have it, I'm not sure where to keep it then. But I didn't know of those plans when I submitted this.

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1 year ago

Totally up to you Mictorrani.

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1 year ago