The Fearless Avenger

Director: Kazuo Ikehiro

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Fearless Avenger "Consumed by flames of vengeance," Jokichi still has to track down two yakuza bosses together with anyone involved with the rape & murder of his wife & the murder of his infant son, in the second of the three-film saga, Trail of Blood II: The Fearless Avenger (Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kawakaze ni kako ha nagareta, 1973).

A yakuza-enka or gangster folk song is sung behind the opening credits as we watch Jokichi striding through the dusk: "For the man who threw yesterday away/ There is no tomorrow/ His wandering heart is a wildneress/ Does it harbor anger, or hatred?"

Based on a novel by Saho Sasazawa (1930-2002), famed for his matatabi-mono or wanderer tales, Sasazawa also wrote novels about Kogarashi Monjiro adapted to three feature films & two television series about a similar toseinin or drifter.

With his reverse-hand draw & upward slashing & downward stabbing style, & his cat's claw three-fingered hand, shaggy-headed gloomy Jokichi is all but indestructible in his battles against yakuza gangs. In Part I of the series, he completed his vengeance against Boss Kyubei. He now must track down two other two gang bosses, Chogoro of Kaiun (Ryohei Uchida) & Chuji of Kunisada (Ryunosuke Minegishi).

The Fearless AvengerChogoro's men are troubling a young woman, so Jokichi saves her, but only because of his hatred for Chogoro.

So self-absorbed is he with his own vendetta, he would not ordinarily help anyone, nor ask anyone for help. But here's a chance to seem chivalrous merely to anger Chogoro's gangsters.

"Spare me!" pleads one of Chogoro's men, over whom Jokichi hovers like a black cloud.
"I can't," says Jokichi.
"I had nothing to do with what happened to your wife! Spare me!"
"I once asked for mercy, too."

Soon Jokichi has crashed a commemorative gambling party of yakuza bosses, knowing Chogoro is among them. This was a suicidal maniac effort, inevitably fruitless, though he could care less that it would render him outcast among all eight Kanto provinces so far as all the bosses were concerned. He could never hope for any alliance in his largely just cause, the insult to the bosses being too great.

The Fearless AvengerHe only survived the day thanks to the intervention of Juzaburo, known as Boss Thunder, who admired Jokichi's nerve & commitment, the concept of kataki-uchi or blood-vendetta having moral strength in medieval Japanese society.

Boss Thunder has a daughter, a troublesome runaway who will be a problem trying to get her to return home. He'll probably be willing surreptitiously to help Jokichi, if he can return the girl safely.

Juzaburo's daughter Oyuki (Ryoko Nakano), as it turns out, is actually a very nice young woman at heart. But her powerful dad wants to marry her off to a yakuza banker, & she'll do anything to get away.

About this time, Chuji of Kunisada is being transported by the authorities, in a large basket dangling from carry-poles, well-guarded by samurai. At the sight of the officials, peasants fall on their faces at the side of the road. Oyuki says, "Poor Chuji! How cruel!" for he was a greatly loved hero of the common people.

The Fearless Avenger"You don't know shit about Chuji," growls Jokichi, knowing as he does that Chuji is capable of evil.

Shortly after, Chuji's men will raid the transport & save their boss, which is fine by Jokichi; he wants Chuji free so as to experience Jokichi's vengeance.

The story develops in rather easy directions as Oyuki is kidnapped & before Jokichi can get her back, she's been raped. It was orchestrated by Minokichi, a young man with a grudge against Jokichi, knowing Boss Thunder would never forgive her bodyguard.

Jokichi kills every blessed one of them, but alas, Oyuki is fatally injured by a deflected knife. Jokichi has failed utterly to protect an innocent life.

He returns the girl's hair to Boss Thunder, showing himself willing to take any abuse for his failure. But the griefstricken father is oddly grateful Jokichi killed all Oyuki's attackers. He let's him go unpunished, & tells him where Chuji & Chogoro can be found together.

The Fearless AvengerA lot of the strength of this film is simply in the rousing tragic beauty of Jokichi. It's certainly not an elaborate tale, so anyone who does not share my enthusiasm for Jokichi's striding silhouette & downcast dark visage may not grasp why many of us regard the Trail of Blood trilogy as classic.

The story is much simpler than average for such films. In the Zatoichi series, for a comparison, the stories might be at their core very simple: Ichi wanders into a town troubled by yakuza; Ichi tries to avoid trouble but has to kill all the bad guys in a big duel to save the villagers; Ichi wanders on to next village.

But within Zatoichi's recurring story there will always be considerable convolutions of content that make it all seem very complex. For the most part, such complications are stripped away from Jokichi's straight-for-the-jugular singleminded intent.

So the focus remains on Jokichi. As played by Yoshio Harada, who is a tall imposing actor, Jokichi is given such fantastic presence that he's riveting whether sitting on a roadside, walking a rustic highway, or standing perfectly still. He doesn't have to be doing a thing to command attention, much as a painted portrait need not be in motion to be complete.

Missing Chuji & Chogoro at the inn, teatotalling Jokichi goes on an unexpected bender with Okayo the teahouse prostitute. They're abusive to each other, but obviously she likes him, & tries to seduce him.

The Fearless AvengerThey become mutually obnoxious pals, & it's quite an interesting if only passing relationship, surprising for director Kazuo Ikehiro whose strength is not generally in directing interesting women.

In fact, Ikehiro was a fine director for the Kyoshiro Nemuri Full Moon Swordsman series because Kyoshiro's overt misogyny is essential to his character, & a director who can't see the fuller value of women within a story easily provides the right angle of perspective when that perspective is Kyoshiro's.

And The Fearless Avenger, like Ikehiro's other two Trail of Blood films, give similar short shrift to the merits of women, who are predominantly either victims or whinging seducers. But Okayo is certainly an exception, & a reminder that Jokichi does have the capacity to love still in him somewhere, however broken the good part of his soul may be.

Evil gang boss Sukezaburo is after old Gosuke, a labor boss or village headman. Jokichi may be under an obligation to the bad guy, but he instantly changes sides to assist the underdog, not worried about breaking yakuza codes, especially as they're just setting him up anyway.

The Fearless AvengerWe perfectly understand, though, that Jokichi isn't really into helping anyone for any reason unless it might lead him to Chuji or Chogoro. And this entire fighting disagreement with Gosuke was really just trumped up to get Jokichi in a position where Chogoro's men can show up & kill him.

Okayo warns him not to participate in the battle, as it's a trap; but Jokichi welcomes the trap. And while awaiting what they have mistakenly believed will be a surprise attack on Jokichi, he protects the old labor boss & his men.

Chogoro's men arrive in great numbers & instantly surround him, soon to be riven by the reverse-hand killing machine that is Jokichi of Mikogami. Chogoro will end up running like a scared dog, with every single one of his men dead.

Okayo watches Jokichi staggering away into the distance, the pursuit of his final enemy, Chuji of Kunisada, the only thing in his mind. In such endings, the transient women in the anti-hero's life generally cries out in hopeless desire for the beloved to remain. Okayo is above that. Suddenly she runs after him to warn him, "Don't drink so much! Got that?" & then never sees him again.

Continue to Trail of Blood Part III:
Slaughter in the Snow

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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