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The growly voiced sword star Shintaro Katsu was so well known for playing Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, that it's doubly amazing to see him acting mostly with his glistening black-marble eyes in this 1970 samurai suspense drama directed by Hiroshi Inagaki (Samurai Trilogy). The nominal star, Toshiro Mifune, who also produced, appears for the fourth and last time as the nameless wandering assassin he first portrayed in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. (The third was another collaboration with Katsu, Kihachi Okomoto's Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.) But in this case the character is an observer and a catalyst of the action rather than a driving force. Ordered by his latest client only to proceed to a remote mountain pass and await further instructions, the bemused ronin gradually becomes aware of a complicated double- and triple-cross plot centered around a charismatic bandit leader. There's relatively little action before the big ambush-and-revenge finale; for most of the running time squabbling characters (including TV star Yuujiro Ishihara as an exiled former nobleman) are confined together, either as hostages or captors, in an isolated tea house. This is a handsomely mounted production, with a lot of star power.

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