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Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman on DVD

reviews by Bill Hunt and Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Zatoichi on DVD (Index)


Zatoichi 10 - Zatoichi's Revenge

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Zatoichi 10 - Zatoichi's Revenge
(Zatoichi Nidan-Giri)

1965 (2003) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: A

Alright! Now we're talking Zatoichi turkey. Even though Zatoichi's Revenge starts off comedic, it ends up walloping you on the head. Ichi's sword tastes blood over and over again, and it rocks.

Probably one of the best Zatoichi films ever made, Zatoichi's Revenge finds Ichi visiting the village of his youth, where (under his mentor Hikonoichi) he learned to be a masseur. But surprise of all surprises, Hikonoichi has been recently murdered and his daughter forced into prostitution. As it turns out, due to the regular corrupt political element that pops up in these films, a bureaucrat and a gambling chief have set up a twisted scheme which claims the daughters of debtors as prostitutes. Naturally, Ichi's plan to free his mentor's daughter (as well as the other girls) will end in a series of blood brawls that are sure to entertain every Ichi fan out there.

The reason this is one of the best Ichi films is not because of the story, but rather because of the character's growth. Ichi hasn't been this bad-ass before. It's almost as if Sam Peckinpah adopted the name Akira Inoue and made a spaghetti western inspired samurai film. I can't say enough good things about this flick. If you've liked Ichi so far, you'll love Zatoichi's Revenge.


Like all the other Home Vision Ichi films this one sounds good and looks even better on DVD, sporting a new anamorphic widescreen transfer and 2.0 mono audio. Again, the extras are light, but what do you really want? Included are trailers for Adventures of Zatoichi, Zatoichi's Revenge and Zatoichi and The Doomed Man, as well as yet another super cool (and framable) poster.



Zatoichi 11 - Zatoichi and the Doomed Man

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Zatoichi 11 - Zatoichi and the Doomed Man
(Zatoichi Sakate-Giri)

1965 (2003) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: B

While locked up on gambling charges, Ichi meets a man sentenced to die. He claims to be innocent, and knowing Ichi will be released, he begs him to find the one man who can prove his innocence. He also asks Ichi to tell his family he'll be home very soon.

After such a string of adventures, Ichi is hesitant to go on this errand and chooses to walk the other way, but fate (as well as an inept con man's scheme) puts him right smack dab in the middle. Soon Ichi learns that friends are foes, greed is God and everyone is somehow related. Oh, Ichi, such is your lot in life: round and round the circle goes.

Here's another great Ichi DVD from Home Vision - the last until May of 2004, damnit. It looks great in anamorphic widescreen, it sounds great in 2.0 mono, and it has a few fun extras. On the disc are three trailers (for Ichi's Revenge, Doomed Man and Chess Expert). All look great. But even cooler than that, there's also a sweet mini-poster insert in the case. Just unfold, frame and put on your wall. Home decorating made simple.




Zatoichi and the Chess Expert

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Zatoichi 12 - Zatoichi and the Chess Expert
(Zatoichi Jigoku Tabi)

1965 (2004) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: A-

On a boat bound for the island of Enoshima, Ichi befriends a chess-playing samurai named Tadasu Jumon. Impressing him with his blind playing, Jumon joins Ichi in his travels. While on the boat, Ichi takes in a friendly game of dice, pulling his trademark slight of hand dice trick ("Why would you bet on the dice outside the cup? Where's the game in that?") on a group of thugs. When they get pissed off, they look for revenge and, considering they work for the influential Banyu crime family, there's trouble to be had once they get to Enoshima. During a scuffle, Ichi sends a bad guy out a window to land on a young girl named Miki and her guardian Tane, hurting Miki. Needing medicine, Ichi raises the necessary funds and goes about saving the girl's life. But who is Tane and why are a group of men hunting for her? Is Jumon a friend or an enemy waiting to pounce on Ichi? And how do the mysterious Sagawa, Roppei and Kume fit into the story? Find out in Zatoichi and the Chess Expert.


Chess Expert is pure Zatoichi fun - a great film to spin if you haven't joined the Ichi party yet. It's got everything that makes the series great, including some really cool fights. This Home Vision release is superb. The anamorphic transfer is incredibly clean and colorful. Blacks are hard and the print is flawless. Audio is in the original mono and sounds fine. Extras include trailers for this film as well as Zatoichi's Vengeance and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, a promo trailer for the series, liner notes by Michael Jeck and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.



Zatoichi's Vengeance

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Zatoichi 13 - Zatoichi's Vengeance
(Zatoichi No Uta Ga Kikoeru)

1966 (2004) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: B+

Ichi stumbles upon a dying man, who was attacked because he was caught cheating at dice. He is asked to give the money he stole to someone named Taichi. Not knowing where to find this person, Ichi continues on his journey and bumps into a blind priest, who sends him to the sleepy haven of Ichinomiya. But Ichi finds that Ichinomiya is no sleepy town. It's being taken over by a gang of ruthless yakuza who are demanding all the business owners pay them to continue operating. He also finds the Taichi he was asked to find, who turns out to be the dying man's son. Oh... and Ichi also bumps into a disgraced samurai who is looking to buy back his wife's retainer from the local whorehouse using the money he will earn for Ichi's head. But Ichi isn't going to hand it over. Will Ichi's sword corrupt the malleable mind of young Taichi into a world he shouldn't enter?

Zatoichi's Vengeance is another good entry in the series. It's sort of understated, but still a rip-roaring fun way to spend 80 or so minutes. This disc is beautiful, with a great transfer from Home Vision - just flawless. Sound is Dolby Digital mono and serves the film nicely. Extras include trailers for Zatoichi and the Chess Expert, Zatoichi's Vengeance and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, a promo trailer for this series, liner notes by Michael Jeck and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.




Zatoichi 14 - Zatoichi's Pilgrimage


Zatoichi 14 - Zatoichi's Pilgrimage
(Zatoichi Umi O Wataru)

1966 - Daiei Studios




Zatoichi's Cane Sword

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Zatoichi 15 - Zatoichi's Cane Sword
(Zatoichi Tekka Tabi)

1967 (2004) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: A+

This is the seminal Zatoichi film. Ichi hitches a ride with a traveling theatrical troupe on their way to Tonda, where he enters into a dice game and cleans house. As you might guess, the losers are all yakuza and they want their money back. Not taking any guff from these sore losers, Ichi makes mincemeat out of them. But when a retired sword maker examines Ichi's sword, he discovers it was made by his old sensei and will break in two during his next battle. Swearing off sword fighting from here on in, Ichi spends the rest of the film avoiding confrontation, making for some funny and equally tense moments. Of course, we all know he'll have to pull out the sword. But how will he manage, knowing full well that after one slash, he'll be weaponless?

This is a great, great Ichi film - probably Todd's favorite in the series. Cane Sword sums up everything we like about these films. It has some of the best characters in the series, some of the best acting and some really scary moments. This Home Vision release has a wonderful anamorphic widescreen transfer, clean Dolby Digital mono sound and a select group of extras including trailers for Zatoichi's Vengeance, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man and Zatoichi Challenged, a promo trailer for this series, liner notes by Michael Jeck and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.




Zatoichi 16 - Zatoichi the Outlaw

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Zatoichi 16 - Zatoichi the Outlaw
(Zatoichi Rooyaburi)

1967 (2003) - Toho Co., Ltd. (AnimEigo)

Film Rating: B+

Ichi doesn't like cheaters. Always on the hunt for a filling rice ball, a hot cup of saki and a good wager, Ichi should be in heaven when he arrives in a small town that supports itself with two gambling houses.

But it's gambling that is ripping the town apart.

The farmers are so caught up in the game that they can't get their crops going. And, low on cash, these farmers are handing over their land to pay their growing debts. As Ichi arrives in town, he meets a former samurai turned farming teacher, dedicated to helping the peasants get a grip on their lives.

Ichi, not knowing what's really going on, gets caught in the middle of a conflict between the two gambling houses, and must choose a side to support. He thinks he's made the right decision, but ends up going on the lamb as a house masseuse when he learns some very distressing news about his decision. Ichi may not be able to see, but he knows when he's been screwed.


This was the first Ichi production actually overseen by Katsu, and right from the start you can see he wanted to make a big splash with this baby. Everything here is ramped up, from the reinvisioned arrow gag (seen previously in Doomed Man), to the epic-styled music. Outlaw opens with an epic bang and keeps chugging along until the end.

The transfer here is anamorphic widescreen, and it looks damn good. AnimEigo took their time and put a lot of love and care into this disc. Color representation is accurate, with nice detail and hard blacks. The sound is 2.0 stereo and the quality is on par with Home Vision's work. Worth noting are the subtitles here. There are two to choose from - "limited" (which only translates what is being said) and "full" (which also explains what is meant or the reference that's being made). Often times in these films, references to money, puns or locales need a further translation. With the "full" option, you won't be lost in a foreign world.

In terms of extras, the AnimEigo line features some additional content the Home Vision titles lack. It's nothing hefty, but is certainly helpful. Along with trailers (for Outlaw, Festival of Fire and Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance), there are also nice character biographies, liner notes and a hard copy reference card (inserted right in the case) that repeats the information in the liner notes. This is a nice holdover from AnimEigo's videotape days - their VHS Samurai Collection titles had full sheet inserts giving character backgrounds, historical data and translations.




Zatoichi 17 - Zatoichi Challenged

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Zatoichi 17 - Zatoichi Challenged
(Zatoichi Chikemuri Kaido)

1967 (2004) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: B-

If you thought messing with a lion's cub was a bad idea, wait until you mess with a kid under Ichi's protection. In Zatoichi Challenged, our favorite blind swordsman is once again on the road. But this time, he's with the young son of a recently passed woman who, as her dying wish, asks Ichi to bring the boy to his father in the town of Maebara. Naturally, Ichi plans honor her request.

The problem arises when Ichi finds out that the boy's father, Shokichi, is a talented artist forced to create forbidden art for a band of gangsters. Can Ichi save the day? Can he save the father from the vicious gangsters? What about these government officials hell bent on wiping everyone and everything associated with such art off the face of the Earth? Oh... and just who is this ronin Tajuro Akazuka, anyway?

Zatoichi Challenged is definitely a grade-A piece of Ichi gold. The first half of the film does a lot to pump up Ichi's charm, focusing on Ichi and the boy as they form a cute bond, which shows off Ichi's softer side.


It helps here that the child under Ichi's watchful "eye" is a bit older than the last time he played baby-sitter (see #8: Fight, Zatoichi, Fight for that adventure). There are great moments of comedy (like when the child passes off a stone as a piece of candy). Then the second half of the film kicks in and Ichi takes off his clown mask and straps on the cane sword, letting the blood fly. It also helps that this is one of the better photographed Ichi films in the series, using bold vistas and colorful landscapes.

This DVD is another one of the Home Vision releases, with a wonderful anamorphic widescreen transfer, clean Dolby Digital mono sound and a select group of extras including trailers for Zatoichi's Cane Sword, Zatoichi Challenged and Zatoichi and the Fugitives, along with a promo trailer for this series, liner notes by Ray Pride and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.




Zatoichi on DVD (Index)

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