The One Eyed Swordsman

Director: Seiichiro Uchikawa
Year: 1963
Production Company: Shochiku
Running Time: 96 minutes

In 1963 Shochiku jumped back into the Tange Sazen sweepstakes with a film starring Tetsuro Tanba (in a double role) as the one-eyed monster. The company had made a number of Sazen films back in the early 1950’s but they hadn’t done that well at the box-office. Sazen was a nice fit into the new wave samurai genre that was becoming more tilted towards off kilter “anti-heroes” such as Zatoichi or Kyoshiro Nemuri in the "Son of the Black Mask" series. With his ferocious appearance, his outcast image, his lack of caring about societal conventions and his own internal code of chivalry he seemingly would be perfect for this age but in fact the Sazen films were coming to an end and the popularity of other characters were soon to put this enduring character out to rest for the most part. Perhaps the character felt a bit stale and too tame by this time especially with the domestic element that the films contained to compete in the ever more exploitive sheen that samurai films were heading for. Gosha attempted to give the Sazen films a much harder edge in his 1966 "Secret of The Urn", but that turned out to be the last one for quite a while.

One issue of course with these films might have been that they used the same story time after time and in this entry it once again revolves around Sazen, the Yagyu family and their need to pay for the Nikko Shrine expenses. They do switch around a number of details and add more action yet it still is basically the same story and the same outcome. In this case though they switch it from a jar to a sword! In 1730 Genzaburo is to marry the daughter of the owner of the Shibo fencing school and they have sent a family sword to them as a gift. When they find out they are responsible for the repairs to the Nikko Shrine and that the sword has clues to an old family fortune they ask for it back. The brother of Genzaburo, Gennojo, makes the request to the Shibo master but is refused. Instead Shibo offers to fight for it – the Yagyu men against his school in a series of duels with wooden sticks.
Gennojo makes easy work of the Shibo fighters and is about to claim the sword back when the unruly Sazen breaks into the dojo and demands to have his chance to fight as well for the sword. He is given the opportunity against Gennojo and is soon on his way home with the sword and tells them that he will return it only to Hagino if she comes to ask him. Earlier he had seen her praying for her father’s health under a waterfall and been somewhat smitten with her beauty and filial devotion. As in some of the other versions the second in command of the school hopes to inherit it after the death of Master Shibo and hurries this event along with a little poison. When Sazen accuses them of this a huge fight breaks out in which he protects the sword and Hagino while fending off and killing dozens of attackers. Eventually, he figures out not only where the treasure is buried but that his past is linked to that of the Yagyu’s. Interestingly, in most of the versions of this story it is his adopted son, Chobayasu, who discovers this but they cut his character out of the film and give that connection to Sazen.
It is a solid film though the print version I saw was very poor with two big action pieces and it still brings in the characters of Ofuji and her brother and the affection they all have for one another. In the end Sazen tells her he is just an old kettle and she replies that I am your lid and they walk off happily together down the road to their next adventure.

My rating for this film: 6.5