Zatoichi: Vol. 19: Samaritan Zatoichi (1968) is another Zatoichi film, and I mean that in the best way. Back in the 80s, Ms. Spenser and I used to go to the Coolidge Corner Theater, which was on a years long Japanese movie binge. They would have two or three double bills a week, and we would watch most of them. I don't know how many Zatoichi movies we watched - there are 26 in all, and they kind of run together.
They all star Shintaro Katsu, as the blind, chubby, sloppy, greedy, sentimental travelling masseur and gambler - who is also one of the greatest swordsmen in the land. In Samaritan, his yakuza ties lead him on a mission to collect a debt, and he winds up being forced to kill the debtor. Minutes too late, his sister appears with the money, but it seems that the boss didn't want the money, he wanted the sister. Zatoichi helps her out, which she has mixed feelings about, him having killed her brother and all.
Several reviewers mention the departures from the formula in this movie, but I didn't see it. It had the gambling, the corrupt bosses, and the girl who falls in love with Zatoichi. Also, some brilliant swordplay.
You might know of this series from the 2003 remake, Zatoichi. It's fine, but I recommend the real thing.