MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*
I determined the first of the ZATOICHI films to be a "combative drama," but I suspect most of the series tended toward the "combative adventure" mode.
Produced at the height of the kung-fu craze, SWORDSMAN is a solid but unremarkable tale teaming the blind warrior-masseuse with a version of the popular Hong Kong franchise, "the One Armed Swordsman," essayed by the actor who created the role, Wang Yu. Plotwise, the story seems the reverse of a Marvel superhero comic of the period. Instead of the heroes coming into conflict near the story's beginning, only to become allies against a common foe later, here Zatoichi and the Swordsman rub each other the wrong way, proceed on separate paths to decimate the forces of a nasty yakuza-boss, and then end up having a climactic battle. Hint: it's a Japanese production, so it's no surprise which hero wins. Though the tragic motifs are rather light, the film is true to the Zatoichi mythos in that the conflict is fundamentally needless, spurred by the inability of the two leads to understand one another's language.
In contrast to the original, low-impact ZATOICHI, the blind hero's sword carves up a lot more flesh, enhancing the main character's sense of being an uncanny presence. At one point Zatoichi even cuts a wagon-wheel in two with his sword-cane.
In contrast, FATAL FLYING GUILLOTINES-- made about four years after the trend-setting MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE-- is a dull, thinly-plotted ripoff of the earlier film. The rambling story concerns the quest of hero Carter Wong to obtain a rare medical text to help his ailing mother, only to find that his quest brings him into conflict with a sect of Buddhist monks and a weird old hermit whose principal defense is a pair of "flying guillotines"-- two hatbox-like devices that can be hurled by chain-attachments so that the box-section settles over a victim's head and decapitates him. These may be the most blatantly absurd weapons ever invented for an old school kung-fu film, and they're pretty much the only thing worth watching in this opus. But the earlier GUILLOTINE film was many times more entertaining than this plodding mess.
About the only thing unusual about this film is that (SPOILER SPOILER) the hero triumphs over his decapitating foe, only to be slain by another malefactor. It's very rare for the main hero of an adventure-tale to be knocked off in this fashion, but I tend to view this sort of deviation as an example of a storyteller tossing in a motif more suited to a work in the dramatic mythos, simply to inspire a shock-response.