Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Night The Screaming Stops:
Being the Seventh Annual Stereo Sanctity /
Breakfast in the Ruins Halloween mix CD

Cross-posted with Stereo Sanctity.

Every year, I find myself wondering how the hell I’ll manage to put together another full 80 minutes of top drawer horror-themed music in time for next Halloween…. and yet every year I end up pretty pleased with the results.

In particular, an unusually fruitful batch of new-ish rock bands ploughing this general furrow in a good sort of fashion (Zig Zags, Satan’s Satyrs, Blood Ceremony…) means that this year we haven’t even had to draw upon the ever more stretched catalogue of Cramps and Misfits hits (though good old Roky does of course get a look-in). Not even room for any random slabs of Ennio Morricone nightmare fuel, although we do have a right belter from Bruno Nicolai and a few nice library cues.

Films evoked within, either directly or indirectly, include: ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’, ‘Possession’, ‘The Fog’, ‘The Legend of Hell House’, ‘Carnival of Souls’, ‘All The Colors Of The Dark’, ‘Blood Sabbath’ and ‘Let’s Scare Jessica To Death’. Pretty good line-up if you’re going the 24 hour movie marathon route this Friday, I should think.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Pan Book of Horror Stories
edited by Herbert Van Thal

(1959 / 12th printing, 1965)


So, check out what I recently found skulking on the goodwill shelf in a café in Laugharne, South-West Wales. A £2 donation to the local cat welfare charity (appropriately enough), and it was mine.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time lurking in British second hand bookshops or libraries will no doubt be familiar with Pan’s seemingly never-ending series of horror story collections, and to be honest I’ve rarely paid them much attention, but I couldn’t resist the fantastic design and artwork of this first volume (uncredited, of course)... and the vague knowledge that some of these are quite collectible didn’t hurt either.

Pretty interesting line-up too, with the authors presented, strangely yet pleasingly, in alphabetical order. An early Nigel Kneale story, more slumming literary colossi than I can bother listing, and, most interestingly from my POV, ‘The Horror in the Museum’ - a story now widely recognised as being more or less entirely the work of H.P. Lovecraft, but presented here under the name of its original credited author, Hazel Heald, and presumably licensed directly from publishers of ‘Weird Tales’ without the involvement of Lovecraft’s executors.

(Well, it’s interesting to me, at least.)

Sunday, 19 October 2014

This Month’s Second Zatoichi:
Fight, Zatoichi, Fight!
(Kenji Misumi, 1964)

When Zatoichi surrenders his ride in a palanquin chair to a young mother struggling with her newborn baby, a tragic misunderstanding sees the poor woman falling victim to the blades of a pack of heartless, Ichi-hunting samurai. Feeling responsible for her death, Ichi takes on the responsibility of looking after her child, vowing to return him safely to his father in a distant village, hooking up with a troubled female thief (Hizuru Takachiho) en route for a journey that proves more cathartic than our hero might have anticipated

Returning to the Zatoichi franchise for the first time since he helped to create the character in 1962’s Tale of Zatoichi, director Kenji Misumi here continues to contemplate the same weighty themes that anchored that film, turning in perhaps the most accomplished, grown up and emotionally affecting Zatoichi film to date.

In contrast to its excitable English title, this is, it must be said, a very uncharacteristic Zatoichi film - one in which the fight scenes and sword-skill set-pieces (frequent and impressive though they are) are largely incidental, taking a clear second place to the more compelling human drama being enacted between Zatoichi, Takachiho, and the ill-starred baby they both find themselves looking after.

Whereas this potentially unpromising “three yakuza and a baby” plotline could easily have devolved into sappy, comic relief-ridden nonsense in the hands of a lesser director (or a lesser star), Misumi’s cast-iron understanding of human empathy and his eye for simple, effective visual storytelling steer us true throughout.

Cinematically speaking, there are moments of pure poetry to be found here – slow, meditative tableaus that serve to calm and contextualise the more turbulent passions of the characters, an approach very much in keeping with the unique atmosphere Misumi created in ‘Tale..’.

Also reminiscent of that earlier film is Misumi’s clear establishment of a ‘two tier’ system of human relationships within the film, which sees Ichi and the broadly admirable characters with whom he interacts existing on an entirely different plain from the beastly, avaricious yakuza and their associates, who are portrayed as not just irredeemable but practically sub-human in their unthinking cruelty. An absurdly simplistic duality of course, and one that fails to acknowledge the shades of grey necessary for any decent story of crime or conflict. But, this is a different kind of story, and as an evocation of the “uncaring world” in which lonely characters like Zatoichi tend to find themselves lost, it is a backdrop that works very well.

I don’t want to go overboard with the auteurist gushing here, but the two Misumi-directed Zatoichi films I’ve watched thus far strike me as presenting a very pure and honest form of cinema that immediately sets them apart from the era’s other chanbara films. Doing his best to avoid both exploitation movie box-ticking and the equally manipulative pretentions of art cinema, Misumi emerges instead with something that just seems, I dunno… basic, and good, like a nice loaf of bread. A film that rings true.

Though I have extensively sung the praises of Shintaro Katsu in prior Zatoichi reviews, you’d better get used to it I’m afraid, because in every film I see him in (whether Zatoichi or his other appearances), he impresses me even more, adding new notches and nuances to his characters at every turn, without ever succumbing to contrivance or showiness. In particular, the more personal nature of the story this time around gives him a bit of a challenge to get stuck into, and, never an actor content to merely coast by on his pre-existing star power, he gives it his absolute all.

The strange, stumbling care Ichi takes with the baby, and his growing love for the child, is brilliantly portrayed by Katsu, without a hint of the mawkishness that usually accompanies such material, as the gentle (but, you will note, also actually funny) humour generated by his attempts to look after the baby (stealing clothes from scarecrows to act as diapers, etc) gradually develop into a deep and genuine warmth as we see realize the extent to which Ichi cares for his surrogate son. (Rather than being bluntly hammered home to us as per a modern Hollywood-style flick, this point is succinctly made via scenes such as the one in which Ichi hires a prostitute to take care of the baby for the night whilst he catches up on sleep next to her, but then frets so much about his ‘son’s wellbeing that he ends up staying awake whilst the lady-of-the-night dozes.)

As a consequence, the gloom that overtakes Zatoichi and his female companion when they finally reach the child’s father’s village and realise they must soon give up ‘their’ son and return to their respective lives of itinerant loneliness is palpable, and the scene in which Ichi says his private farewells to the baby prior to setting out to return him to his family is absolutely heartbreaking.

Of course, being a Zatoichi film, things don't work out quite that simply, especially after the baby’s father is revealed to be another yakuza scumbag. But still, the old weight of Ichi’s lonely destiny raises its head once more, as the impossibility of his raising a child as a blind fugitive constantly pursued by rampaging swordsmen eventually becomes clear to him, and he must do the decent thing, just as he had to accept the impossibility of his settling down to married life with gentle Otane in ‘Tale..’.

When Ichi eventually leaves the child in the care of the local priest, and makes his weary exit into the sunset, carrying the baby’s favourite plaything for a memento as he walks away, I think it’s safe to assume there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at this film’s original screenings (there certainly wasn’t in our house, I can tell you that). Transcending the usual clichés of genre melodrama and appealing to something deeper within all of us, it is just crushingly sad moment.

A real change of pace for the Zatoichi saga, and, I suppose you might say, an unexpected gem of low-key human drama hidden within the shell of a bodycount-heavy action flick, ‘Fight, Zatoichi, Fight’ (the interchangeable English title seeming more inappropriate than ever in this instance) is simply a great movie about people and the way they feel about stuff whilst living in the world, with no caveats or genre-specific schematics needed.

My admiration for Misumi, for Katsu, and for this wonderful series in general grows even stronger as we prepare – presumably – to step back onto the action/adventure treadmill when Zatoichi On The Road director Kimiyoshi Yasuda takes the reins for the final Zatoichi film of 1964, ‘Adventures of Zatoichi’, which hit screens in Daiei’s Tokyo cinemas on 30th December that year.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sweater off / Dead:
A ‘Bloody Moon’ Fashion Show.

Stylistically speaking, I think it could well be said that Jess Franco never really DID the 1980s. Sure, he made a lot of films in the 1980s, but in purely aesthetic terms, he never really seems to embraced the bold new era as much as we might have hoped.

Visually, much of his output during the ‘80s seems to resemble a nostalgic hangover for the jet-setting Mediterranean excesses of his ‘70s work, and more often than not, ventures toward more contemporary stylings were characterised less by directorial vision than by a sense of sad, budget-necessitated randomness that inevitably veered towards the less tolerable end of the decade’s cultural legacy (Princess Di haircuts, spandex shorts, slap bass, etc).

Perhaps due to the contribution of some outside costume/design staff and a (slightly) higher budget than usual though, ‘Bloody Moon’ stands out as a glorious exception – a film in which the man who brought us the visual delights of ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ and ‘The Girl From Rio’ can truly be seen to be adapting his sartorial passions to the era of leg-warmers, ill-fitting cowboy boots and above all, SWEATERS. (Or “jumpers” as we call them in this part of the world, but in keeping with the trans-atlantic nomenclature of the movie in question, we’ll go with “sweaters”.)

The results, needless to say, are frequently a thing of beauty. So, to further elucidate this point whilst also hopefully providing a few moments of light-weight net-pleasure to all you bored wage slaves out there patiently awaiting my next 4,000 word opus on some sleazy, forgotten horror film, here are six of the best fashion moments from this unique motion picture.


Nadja Gerganoff may be no Lina Romay, but she does at least seem to have picked up a sliver of Lina’s sartorial boldness vis-à-vis her decision to go out in public dressed like this.


Believe it or not, this little number is only the third best sweater in ‘Bloody Moon’. At one point in the film, we learn that Angela, played by Olivia Pascal (pictured above) has actually brought an entire wardrobe of sweaters with her to the International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages. A questionable decision for a summer break spent on the South coast of Spain you might think, but clearly Angela was well aware that competition in the sweater stakes would be heated. Will such forethought lead her to victory? Read on to find out…


The girl on the right. Entire ensemble. Nuff said.


Inevitably, we’re mainly concentrating on the ladies of ‘Bloody Moon’ for this list, but that’s not to say that male cast don’t have their moments too. In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the 2000AD-esque comic book design briefly glimpsed on the back of the scarred-mentalist-brother character’s leather bomber jacket. Nice one, dude.


It was difficult to get a good screengrab of Angela’s majestic Grace Jones sweatshirt, but… hopefully you get the idea.


I’m sorry Angela – you might have thought the Grace Jones play was a pretty unbeatable move, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, in the world of sweaters compares to the garment being sported here by Jasmin Losensky’s Inga. Total supremacy.

Right, that's more than enough 'Bloody Moon' for now I think. See you all at the Disco Club...

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Franco Files:
Bloody Moon

In 1981, a group of callous German producers sparked a major incident in the esoteric world of horror movie sub-categorisation, when they thoughtlessly invited the ‘80s American Slasher Film to make incursions into the ancient kingdom of Jess Franco. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Nobody quite remembers. Either way, a confrontation was inevitable, and the results could have been catastrophic. Forces were mustered, and, in a darkened alley near a picturesque Alicante holiday village, the two sides met for a showdown.(1)

Strutting, Slasherdom paraded its arsenal:
* A large cast of young actresses, each of them more conventionally attractive and quote-unquote ‘wholesome’-looking (not to mention more frequently clothed) than those you would expect to see in a 1981 Jess Franco film.
* The shadiest and most incompetently managed Spanish language summer school in the known world. (“International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages” reads a sign spelled out in those slanted, adhesive letters that are usually used for putting house/room numbers on front doors.)

* Teen pool party opening sequence incorporating hand-held ‘killer POV’ shots and mildly ‘transgressive’ usage of a Mickey Mouse mask.

* A bold wardrobe of ‘80s casual attire that actually seems pretty spot-on in its circa-’81 anticipation of the more garish trends of the coming decade.

* A generous scattering of conveniently placed gardening tools and industrial wood-cutting equipment.

* Lumbering, mute gardener guy as obvious red herring.

* A succession of neatly cling-filmed corpses deposited in and mysteriously removed from closets for maximum jack-in-the-box scare / ‘huh-it’s-gone-am-I-going-crazy’ effect.

* Sinister introverted brother who has been released from mental institution, but clearly shouldn’t have been because he’s crazy and murderous. I mean, just look at him - he has a scar on his face and silently stares at stuff. Nuts, I tell you.

* An excruciating American-English dub track that seems designed specifically to make every female character sound like a congenital moron, and every male sound like a sleaze-dripping closet psychopath. (And to make us laugh like a drain whenever an underpaid voice artiste sighs and gives her best shot to a line like “I bet he’s never even made it with a girl, the phony Spanish lover!”)
His pride wounded by all this unfamiliar transatlantic hoo-hah, Franco responded in kind:
* Wobbly tracking shots across picturesque Spanish harbours, culminating in a focus pull on that big goddamn rock he seems to like so much.
* Exactly the same Costa Blanca shooting locations seen fifteen years earlier in Attack of the Robots.
* An actress who looks a lot like the regrettably absent Lina Romay moping seductively in the upstairs window of a Spanish hacienda in a transparent night-dress, contemplating mischief. (The very same window used to frame Françoise Brion in ‘..Robots’, if anyone’s taking notes.)
* Wobbly, focus-blurring zoom shots of the moon, because, y’know – moon.
* A soundtrack that sounds as if the employees of a German library music label began pulling all-nighters and experimenting with Gysin/Burroughs cut-up technique.
* Language school proprietor who struts into the student “Disco Club” in a white suit & black shirt combo, momentarily looking like some decadent, DeSadean strip-club overlord.(2)
* Gore effects so audaciously shoddy they practically break the fourth wall and engage you in discussion re: the persistence of notions of theatricality and disbelief suspension in genre cinema
* Uncomfortable (and illogical) incest-based sub-plot.
* Persistent, low level evocation of that particular atmosphere of intangible, woozy dementia found in only the finest deep cuts of European trash-horror.
And so, battle commenced, in a conflict that will be known forever as ‘Bloody Moon’. Unless you live in Germany - then it's ‘Die Säge des Todes’ (“The Saw of Death”). Or Spain, in which case it’s ‘Colegialas Violadas’ (“Violated School Girls”). In Denmark, it was ‘Sexmord på Pigeskolen’ (“Sex-Death at the Girls’ School”?). Argentina went with ‘Terror y Muerte en la Universidad’. But no matter - to the likes of us, ‘Bloody Moon’ it is.

Legend has it that ‘Bloody Moon’s producers, keen for some reason to recruit the commercially washed up director of ‘Hellhole Women’ and ‘El Sexo esta Loco’ to their slasher dream project, lured Jess Franco on board by promising him the chance to work with up-and-coming German sexploitation star Olivia Pascal, the services of “one of the best effects guys in Hollywood”, and an original score by Pink Floyd.

Pascal materialised. The ‘Floyd did not. Effects ended up being masterminded by some guy Franco knew who handled props and owned a polystyrene head. A bit of a bummer for our long-suffering auteur, we might suppose, but seasoned Francohiles will well know that when the chips are down on a production, that’s often when the magic happens. Often, but not always. Sometimes ‘Oasis of the Zombies’ happens, but we’ve just got to cross our fingers and pray.

In the highly enjoyable interview included on Synapse’s recent blu-ray edition of ‘Bloody Moon’ (from which the screen-grabs above are definitely NOT taken), Franco speaks at length about his dislike for the film’s German composer, whom he angrily accuses of providing “fucking Dutch music”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Hopefully we can assume that, rather than dismissing the entire cultural output of The Netherlands here, Jess is here referring to some particular form of film music popular at the time, or something like that? I’ve got no idea what he means to be honest, but regardless - if this German cat was bringing it, and Franco wasn’t digging it, my instinct is to go with Jess on this one. (Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the frankly unhealthy amount of time I’ve spent watching his work, it’s that JF knows a good tune when he hears one.)

Ever willing to take a deep breath and give it his best shot, Franco took up the bat and got swinging, digging into his own archive of surplus musical bits and bobs and applying a bit of the ol’ cut n’ paste to Gerhard Heinz’ credited score, with reliably off-kilter results. (The extraordinarily odd, squelchy cue that serves to weirdify the otherwise wholly routine “killer POV ascending the stairs” shot early in the film is my personal favourite moment in this regard.) 

It is easy to assume that Franco applied a similar ‘make do & mend’ spirit to all aspects of this ill-starred shoot too, his veteran’s determination to make the best of a bad job for once triumphing over the opposite tendency toward cack-handed laziness that more frequently shone through in his early ‘80s work-for-hire gigs. Despite all the initial signs of hostility between ‘Bloody Moon’s oil & water components, such inspiring leadership seems to have led to both parties in the dispute realising that they had more in common than they initially thought (after all, what was Franco’s earlier ‘Exorcism’ (1974) if not a peculiarly twisted entry in the pre-‘Halloween’ proto-slasher canon?), allowing the project’s conflicting aesthetics to blend and interact in strange and wonderful ways.

For me you see, the thing about slasher films is that their inherently minimal and repetitive format demands that, to become enjoyable for those of us who have no particular love for the genre, they must be… what’s the right word? Eccentric – that’ll do. To generate interest, a slasher must either a) be a technically excellent and emotionally involving motion picture ('Black Christmas' or Tony Williams' 'Next of Kin' spring to mind), or b), plug the gaps between dead teens with the most off-beat, aimless and just plain weird diversions that come to hand. And, given that so many products of the sub-genre’s early ‘80s golden age were cheap, amateurish films made by otherly inspired individuals for purely opportunistic reasons, many of them thankfully embark upon route b) with a great deal of gusto.

‘Bloody Moon’s Spanish-pretending-to-be-American compatriot ‘Pieces’ is perhaps the preeminent example of how things right, by which I mean wrong, by which I mean just sort of strange and confused, in this regard. The Australian-pretending-to-be-American ‘Strange Behaviour’ aka ‘Dead Kids’ is another good one, as is the genuinely-American-though-presumably-beamed-in-from-another-dimension ‘Hack O Lantern’. You can pencil in your own additions to the list, I’m sure. If not, the archives of Bleeding Skull should provide a lifetime's worth of pointers.To recap then: routine, competently made slasher = BORING. Eccentric, amateurish slasher = GOOD TIMES.

During Bloody Moon’s opening half hour, there were some shaky moments where I was worried things were heading in the former direction. The vacant, empty-eyed teens and tedious two-shot conversation scenes. The duh-brained “homages” to ‘Halloween’ and ‘Psycho’. The over-before-its-even-begun un-plotline. The surprisingly good but never quite exceptional cinematography. The presence of this so-called Nadja Gerganoff (in her only screen role) occupying the ‘slutty older sister’ role that should so rightfully belong to Lina. 

But I should have had faith. By the time a detailed discussion takes place regarding the most appropriate sweater to wear on a midnight fishing expedition with some lusty sailors, I was getting into the swing of things. After a perfectly cube-shaped polystyrene boulder narrowly misses our heroine's head, I had that nice “literally anything could happen next” buzz going on. As things stumble toward a climax, the pace quickens, slightly. Events get wilder, editing choppier, framing wonkier and music more unhinged. By the time Lina’s stand-in artlessly slices a guy in half with a chainsaw, I was ready to stand up, weeping with joy, and thank God for bringing all these people together for a few weeks on the sultry Spanish coast.

As far as the – ahem – serious consideration of Jess Franco’s cinematic legacy goes, few would seek to place ‘Bloody Moon’ on the same level as his more accomplished and personal work from the ‘60s and ‘70s. But as a Halloween-adjacent Friday night beer & pizza movie, it delivers beautifully, in ways that a non-Franco directed cynical cash-in slasher would likely never have achieved.

So, to return to where we began. It is 1981. The ‘80s American Slasher Film and the world of Jess Franco face each other across that dark alley near Alicante. Silence reigns. After a few minutes of whsipered discussion, they decide to cancel hostilities and made sweet love instead. The result? WE ALL WIN.


Kink: 3/5
Creepitude: 3/5
Pulp Thrills: 4/5
Altered States: 2/5
Sight Seeing: 3/5


(1) ‘Bloody Moon’s main production heavy-weight Wolf C. Hartwig was the man behind the interminable “Schoolgirl Report” series that pretty much defined the aesthetic of cheapo German sexploitation in the ‘70s (and of which Franco directed one of the stranger installments). Hartwig’s hefty catalogue of cinematic tat actually stretches as far back as 1959’s ‘Horrors of Spider Island’, and in 1977 he seemingly tried to re-balance the scales by taking the sole producer credit on Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Cross of Iron’, the same year he also handled ‘When Girls Make Love’ and ‘Confessions of a Naked Virgin’. I’ve not read up on the working relationship between Hartwig and Peckinpah, but one suspects they might not have seen eye to eye.

(2) The “Disco Club” also serves litre bottles of beer to students as a takeaway, plays lumpen, Shawaddywaddy style retro-kitsch rock n’ roll and allows entry to passing sailors (rollerskates optional). My kinda language school, as if we hadn’t established that much already.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

This Month’s Zatoichi:
Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword
(Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964)

N.B. As observant readers will have noticed, my attempt to write about one Zatoichi film per month has slipped up a little during this summer’s regrettable posting collapse. Thankfully though, this delay has occurred at about the point when, having hopefully got to grips with the basic tenets of the series, it seems to make sense to move toward shorter, more capsule-style reviews, meaning that, hopefully, I’ll be able to throw in at least one additional review in October or November, getting us back on schedule before the end of the year. So that’ll be a big weight off your mind, I’m sure.

One result of the relentlessly prolific pace with which genre films were produced in Japan in the mid 20th century is the common phenomena of two entries in an ongoing series being made back-to-back by the same (or very similar) cast and crew, presumably working to a single, fixed budget and schedule. Sadly what often tends to result from this scenario is that the first film consumes the lion’s share of the time, enthusiasm, ideas and money, whilst the second limps out shortly afterwards looking like a bit of an afterthought - the work of exhausted filmmakers pushing to get another movie finished using whatever leftovers remained from the first production. (For a textbook example of this, see the vast difference in quality between Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and the concurrently shot Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo.)

I can’t guarantee that is what happened with the two Zatoichi films directed by Kazuo Ikehiro in 1964, but we can at least float it as a possibility, given that, in comparison to the frankly magnificent Zatoichi & The Chest of Gold, ‘Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword’, released four months later, is somewhat underwhelming.

Basically, this is the closest thing we’ve seen so far to a completely formulaic, business-as-usual Zatoichi picture, featuring a simplistic, pre-‘Yojimbo’ “goodies vs baddies” style plot set up that demands little in the way of engagement from the viewer, either emotional or intellectual. A tale of Zatocihi wading into a conflict between rival yakuza gangs over a valuable river-crossing concession as preparations for a big annual firework festival take place in the background, this seventh entry in the series is briskly and competently directed with the usual top notch photography and original music, but unfortunately it displays little of the admirable style and audacity that Ikehiro brought to ‘..Chest of Gold’.

In particular, I was disappointed by the fact that the whole story seems to be setting things up for a dramatic final battle taking place against the backdrop of the firework festival – which is surely the perfect excuse for an amazing and memorable sequence, right, especially in the hands of the director who worked such wonders on the preceding film..? The usual dazzling swordplay played off against the flashing lights, shadows and blinding primary colours of the festival, with booms and crashes filling the sky all around? This is gonna be awesome, surely.

Well, sadly, it never materialises, as the film instead goes for a low-key and rather perfunctory ending that sees Zatoichi casually slaughtering a few legions of yakuza within a cramped corridor set, before the film ends abruptly with our hero gloomily contemplating a head wound he received when the bad gang’s boss threw a brick at him. The long-promised fireworks meanwhile remain at a distance, visible to us only via a few bits of haphazard stock footage. A potentially great moment lost to budget and time constraints perhaps..? Who knows.

On the plus side though, this is still, as ever, wholly satisfactory entertainment, as watchable and accomplished as you could wish of a formula genre picture, with some solid fight scenes, likeable comedic shenanigans, plus plenty of the usual beautiful rural locations, fine turns from a handful of seasoned character players, and, best of all, Shintaro Katsu having just as much of a ball as usual, giving yet another rousing demonstration of how Zatoichi ended up becoming such an indelible folk hero of mid 20th century Japan. Most of the best moments in ‘..Flashing Sword’ are those that find Katsu riffing on some new variations of the gentle physical comedy skits and ad-libbed philosophical asides that help make Zatoichi an even more noble and lovable hero with each passing movie. A real giant of the Japanese screen and a uniquely compelling performer, my admiration for Katsu-san grows with each film I see him in, and the thought of spending another twenty five hours (approx) of screen-time in his presence over the coming months pleases me greatly.

Though it was the least satisfactory entry in the series thus far, it is a testament to the sheer level of quality maintained by these films that when I think back on my viewing of ‘Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword’, it still seems like a more rewarding experience than that provided by, say, about 90% of other, non-Zatoichi-related films I’ve seen this year.