Can A Good Man Do No Evil? Is Zatoichi A Good Man?

Pre-emptive clarifications

First, by a ‘good man’ we specifically mean here one who is truly good.

By ‘good’ we mean one who, by their actions, attempts to decrease the amount of evil.

By ‘evil’ we mean those actions which are disruptive towards a social, unified, ordered, society. For example, murder, theft and pillaging.

This by no means exhausts all potential issues with the below, but if one assumes the common definitions, it should make sense.

Finally, this is my first piece in quite some time that attempts to be philosophical on an issue. Be gentle, kind reader.

Zatoichi

There is a long-running series of Japanese films concerning the blind masseur Zatoichi. In addition to being a great masseur, he is also skilled in the use of a sword.

After watching these films, one understands that Zatoichi is indeed a hero, albeit one with some black marks. He’s a gambler and a drinker, has bought many women, and has killed many men.

To some extent, these would seem to disallow the term ‘good’ being prescribed to him. Gambling and drinking are hardly evil, nor is buying the pleasure of a woman. On the other hand, killing, or murdering, is, perhaps, touching upon evil. However, despite all of this, he is in fact a good man, and one might argue, even ‘more good’ than someone who does none of these.

A good evil man?

Is Zatoichi perhaps a ‘good’ evil man? For example, we have the nameless main character in Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars/Last Man Standing.

In these films the main character faces off against two rival gangs, playing each side against the other until he is the only one left. We certainly can’t consider the man good, since he does not do it for the typical ‘good’ reasons. To some extent people are saved, but that’s not the sole purpose of what he’s doing, rather just a pleasant side-effect. Perhaps later it plays more of a role, but certainly not in the beginning, and not necessarily at all.

However, despite their killing, we’d hardly call them evil. Bad, yes, but not evil.

The difference between bad and evil killing

It seems that there is some difference, then, between bad and evil killing.

Zatoichi / the nameless kill a number of men between them. However, there are some easily identifiable differences.

First, they kill no one who has not killed before, or who has no intention to kill. For this latter we must guard against going too far, as there are few among us who have not, at one time or another, thought of killing someone else. Rather, they have not only the intention, but also the resolve to carry out the task.

Second, they do not kill an un-armed individual. While this may be questionable at times, in particular with those films involving guns, I believe it to be safe to make this claim.

Third, they do not do a bad or evil action solely for the bad/evil action’s sake. They don’t destroy property, for example, solely to destroy the property.

Zatoichi as a bad man

Based on our previous discussion, it seems that Zatoichi is a bad man, since he kills, but does not do so in an evil way. However, by saying this, we also say that he is like the character of Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars/Last Man Standing, which is contrary to what we actually believe, and daresay, know.

How then are Zatoichi’s bad actions cancelled, or lessened?

Reasons why Zatoichi may in fact be a good man

First, Zatoichi clearly kills bad and evil men, only (at least through the first three films). To this end, with one exception, Zatoichi only attacks when he is attacked. Based on his own situtation - blindness - it makes sense.

The one exception is the end of the second film, where he kills the man who brought about his brother’s death. While he indeed made the first strike, and acted in passion, this was probably a fairly logic, and at the very least not an evil, action.

Second, Zatoichi makes an attempt to prevent individuals from being hurt. This includes not only persuading others from fighting him, but also avoiding or dissuading those who he may hurt, such as various ‘love interest’ women.

Clearly, from these two points, Zatoichi acts in a reactionary way. While it is true that reactionists can be evil, it is much more difficult.

Third, Zatoichi makes an attempt to move from the path he is on. For the most part, until trouble has found him, he doesn’t look for it. Between the first and second films, for instance, it may in fact be that Zatoichi killed no men. In the third film Zatoichi even attempts to give up his old ways and marry.

Fourth, from the third film we hear, and not just see, that Zatoichi wants to change. While the situation may have something to do with it, we get the sense that he would give up killing if he could. Unfortunately, this lasts only until his hopes are weakened.

While at the end of this same film he states that he is the man that he is (paraphrasing), we cannot assume, even if he were to say so, that he is a bad man.

Final thoughts 

Based upon Zatoichi’s actions, it is safe to say, I believe, that he is in fact a good man. While it is true that he does bad actions, and perhaps even the seemingly evil action of killing, his intentions behind his actions, and the ultimate effect those actions have, is good.

In addition, Zatoichi reacts to situtations, in particular because of his blindness. While a blind man can in fact be quite evil, Zatoichi exhibits none of those traits.