One of my first introductions to the Zatoichi series was through the 1989 samurai action film “Blind Fury” which established the blind samurai to American audiences through actor Rutger Hauer. Since Hauer was king back in the eighties, this is one of the rare instances where he plays not just a hero, but a hero with an immense ability for good who is unbelievably charming. ‘Blind Fury” is a modernized and altered adaptation of the seventeenth “Zatoichi” film entitled “Zatoichi Challenged” which is in many ways fixed for the eighties set pieces, but possesses some of the same moments from the original film series. Including the moment where Zatoichi’s young ward tries to pass off a rock as a piece of candy to Zatoichi who surprises him by spitting it back in his face.
Rather than becoming a series of films, “Blind Fury” basically just takes the most entertaining story of the Zatoichi film series and transforms it in to a standalone vehicle for Hauer who had a knack for taking on iconic roles in the eighties from an android in “Blade Runner” to the descendent of Steve McQueen in “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” This time he’s an American Zatoichi, a role perfected by Shintaro Katsu. As most films from the decade, there’s an undercurrent of examination for the Vietnam war, and Nick Parker is a man affected by the war in ways he cannot change. When a mortar explodes in his face, Nick discovers he’s completely lost his sight. Instead of being left to die in the jungles of Vietnam, he’s instead taken in by a friendly Vietnamese village who nurse him back to health, and teach him how to survive without his sight. Most importantly they teach him the art of the sword. Now a man altered by the ravages and kindness of a senseless war, he wanders the land looking for a purpose and comes across one when he reaches out to a long lost war buddy.
Like Zatoichi, Nick is brilliant at playing a blind fool, and when he’s crossed he’s deadly with his stick and incredibly lethal with his sword. Fate finds him when he visits his old friend’s ex-wife and finds himself in the cross hairs of a horrible mob hit that takes the life of his best friend’s ex-wife in cold blood. Now tasked with caring for her son Billy, it’s up to Nick to bring him to his long lost father and hopefully stop the crime ring ensuing that has Billy’s dad playing a drug chemist and dealer. Hauer rises to the challenge of this blind warrior and plays him with a swift and clever temperament that makes him a very entertaining hero to watch. Even when outmatched and outnumbered he always manages to squeeze his way out of a jam and he displays a keen awareness of his surroundings much better than anyone with sight. Mostly the film is a road trip with Nick and Billy forced to endure one another’s outlook on life and eventually bond over the repeated attempts at their life.
Nick reveals his softer side through his rough exterior and Billy finds a father figure he never knew he wanted. Nick uses his sword deadlier than anyone with a gun and it helps that most of the men out to murder him are rarely ever trained assassins or marksman who shoot from a distance, but hillbilly thugs who can barely handle walking let alone operating a firearm. That little gap in logic aside, Nick never underestimates anyone in the film and finds himself face to face with death, even when confronted with Sho Kosugi who plays a samurai for hire sent to off Nick once and for all. Though the film isn’t as great or layered as the original Zatoichi episode, “Blind Fury” is a satisfying action vehicle for Hauer and it’s a shame this never developed in to a trilogy as Hauer could have easily gained mileage off this character. While flawed in some respects, “Blind Fury” is an entertaining and exciting action romp that adapts the Zatoichi tale to the best of its ability and produces a fine eighties action film with Rutger Hauer doing a damn good job as a blind samurai.