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Site created 12/15/97.

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page added: 5/20/04
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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 18 - Zatoichi and the Fugitives

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Zatoichi 18 - Zatoichi and the Fugitives
(Zatoichi Hatashi-Jo)

1968 (2004) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: A-

So... after establishing Ichi's cute and cuddly side with Challenged, all the stops are pulled out in this next installment. Ichi is chewed up, spit out and hung out to dry. If this series were to be compacted into a trilogy, this film would be at the tail-end of part two. In other words, this is Ichi's Empire Strikes Back.

No hyperbole: Zatoichi and the Fugitives is pitch black dark, with no comedic moments to give you a breather, and its violence is unrelenting.

Once again traveling the back roads of Japan, Ichi meets up with a pack of fugitives, and quickly makes his mark by killing a pair and with one swish of his blade through a tree snake. This sets up respect within one of his single greatest enemies in the form of their leader Ogano Genpachiro.

After the battle, Ichi once again meets up with Ogano in a small village overrun with fugitives. It's in this village where Ichi finds a friend in the form of Junan, a local doctor (played by Akira Kurosawa mainstay Takashi Shimura) and his daughter. Things go from slightly settled to full on chaotic when the fugitives trade sanctuary with the local yakuza for the murder of a local labor union representative.


That murder gets out of hand when, instead of a single death, the fugitives murder an entire clan. Ichi of course steps in, and is promptly shot and left for dead. And that's when they make their biggest mistake. In trying to draw out Ichi, they take the doctor and his daughter hostage. Close to death and bleeding out his final ounces of blood, Ichi wages a final war on the criminals of the town and their fugitive cronies, with plenty of limbs flying and geyser upon geyser of samurai flick-fueled carnage. If Katsu wanted to remind up how badass Ichi was after a series of films designed to deepen his character, he rightfully succeeds.

Through all this darkness, Katsu and Takashi Shimura (a fine actor indeed) have a series of great interactions that help develop the inner turmoil of Ichi, as a gangster trying desperately to make good. All in all, this is a great Ichi flick and a nice reset after the light and cute Ichi we've seen up to this point.

What can we say about the disc itself? Let's see... it's a Home Vision release with a very nicely remastered anamorphic widescreen picture and Dolby Digital mono sound that serves us well. Extras include a reproduction mini-movie poster, a liner notes essay by Mike Jeck and trailers for Zatoichi Challenged, Zatoichi and the Fugitives and Samaritan Zatoichi. Good stuff.




Zatoichi 19 - Samaritan Zatoichi

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Zatoichi 19 - Samaritan Zatoichi
(Zatoichi Kenka-Daiko)

1968 (2004) - Daiei Studios (Home Vision)

Film Rating: C+

Samaritan Zatoichi is one of the faster paced, balls-to-the-wall actioners in the Ichi series.

It all starts simply enough: Ichi has joined up with a gang of mafia muscle who are collecting a debt from one of their own members. Ichi is set up to kill the guy. As he does so, he immediately regrets his last two decisions. You see, the whole thing is a crisscross. The yakuza want the man's pretty sister Osode. To get her, they need her brother out of the way. As soon as Ichi figures this out, he grabs the girl and goes on the road to bring the girl back to her hometown. Of course, the girl saw Ichi kill her brother in cold blood and wants nothing to do with him. Zippity zap, there's lots of action, lots of drama... and all of it culminates in one last guilt-fueled rescue attempt and a battle with a love-sick ronin named Yasaburo Kashiwazaki (Makoto Sato) who only wants one thing: Osode.


There's not much in the way of character development or even set-pieces in this entry in the Ichi series. It really is just one action set-up after another. That doesn't make it bad, by the way. It's just not Ichi at his most badass.

On DVD, the anamorphic widescreen transfer is great and the sound is in its original mono format. Extras include liner notes by Tom Mes, a fold-out mini poster and trailers for Zatoichi and the Fugitives, Samaritan Zatoichi and an overall promo for Home Vision's Zatoichi series.




Zatoichi 20 - Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo

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Zatoichi 20 - Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo
(Zatoichi To Yojimbo)

1970 (2003) - Toho Co., Ltd. (AnimEigo)

Film Rating: B+

This is a huge flick. Take Kurosawa's Yojimbo character (a misnomer, I know) and throw him up against Katsu's Zatoichi and you get nothing but samurai goodness. Mifune and Katsu - two great tastes that went great together.

Looking for a sort of vacation, Ichi sets out for an village he's spent time at in the past, with the best hot springs he remembers anywhere. It's a village that has never done him any wrong, a rare commodity these days. But when he gets there, he finds that things have changed, and not for the better.

Greed is running rampant as the leading power family is double-dealing and back-stabbing in order to steal all the gold from the Shogunate. Once Ichi swings onto the scene, he's met with many cold people and knows something's up. He starts to sniff around, only to bump into a hired yojimbo (read: bodyguard) named Sasa (played by legendary actor Toshiro Mifune). Sasa has been hired to protect the family at all costs. But Ichi, in his clever way, knows Sasa is inherently good and uses the ronin to his own advantage.


Although not the best Ichi entry, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo has obvious cache and is usually the film newbies to this series are most familiar with. The good, is that this is an Ichi film co-starring Mifune. The bad, is that the story pretty well burps and putzs along looking for the eagerly awaited battle scenes, which are relegated to the last half of the film. Still Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo has got a lot of class, and the acting between the two leads is really fun.

Hopefully, the great treatment done by AnimEigo on this DVD will keep the curious wanting more Ichi goodness. The picture quality here is as good as Outlaw. The source elements are very clean and, overall, it's a pleasing image. The audio is also solid, with nice 2.0 stereo representation. The extras once again include the "full" and "limited" subtitle options (a la Outlaw), a trailer (for Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance), character bios and liner notes (both on the disc and on an insert card inside the case). Through and through, this a nice DVD release of a much-loved Ichi flick.




Zatoichi 21 - Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire

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Zatoichi 21 - Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire
(Zatoichi Abare-Himatsuri)

1970 (2004) - Katsu Productions Co. Ltd./Daiei Studios (AnimEigo)

Film Rating: B-

Zatoichi may have finally met his match!

In Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire, Ichi finds himself face to face with a powerful Yakuza boss named Yamikubo, who considers himself a Lord on par with any and all Shogunate. Yamikubo does what he wants, destroys what he wants and taxes everyone who steps into his path. When Yamikubo meets up with Ichi, he finds himself liking the wandering masseur for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason might because they're both blind. Wanting to be a mentor, Yamikubo shows Ichi great respect... until a chance event forces him to call for Ichi's death. That death will be hard to get though, with a young woman acting against her master out of love for Ichi, Ichi's unmatchable skill with a sword and the presence of a mysterious samurai who won't let anyone kill Ichi... because he wants to do it himself.


Don't be fooled by the trailer for this one. Although it looks like the most dire and nihilistic film in the series, Katsu Shintaro's Ichi character is always in good spirits and isn't ever in any real danger until the last ten minutes or so. There are, however, some super badass fight sequences, including a naked battle with a gaggle of Yakuza who attack in a hot tub. The final battle is a dozy as well - Ichi, lost in sadness, becomes a shadow and plenty of lives lost are lost, including those of the innocent.

Like the other recent Ichi title from AnimEigo, Zatoichi at Large, the video on this one is anamorphic widescreen, but the colors and contrast are only good in terms of quality. Still, Festival of Fire looks quite good for a Japanese film from the 70s, and we highly recommend its inclusion in your Ichi library. The audio is in a serviceable 2.0 stereo, with a dash of distortion found here and there.

Extras include both "full" and "limited" subtitle options (offering English translation or translation plus context), trailers (for Zatoichi at Large, Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance and Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell), along with more character bios and the usual program notes (providing additional historical and cultural context). Once again, you also get an insert card in the case that repeats the program notes.




Zatoichi 22 - Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman

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Zatoichi 22 - Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman
(Shin Zatoichi: Yabure! Tojin-Ken)

1971 (2004) - Katsu Productions Co. Ltd./Daiei Studios (AnimEigo)

DVD REVIEW COMING SOON





Zatoichi 23 - Zatoichi at Large

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Zatoichi 23 - Zatoichi at Large
(Zatoichi Goyo-Tabi)

1972 (2004) - Katsu Production Co., Ltd./Toho Co., Ltd. (AnimEigo)

Film Rating: B+

They say no good deed ever goes unpunished, and poor old Ichi once again proves that to be true in Zatoichi at Large.

Ichi is, as ever, wandering the back roads of Japan, when he stumbles upon a pregnant woman who's just been robbed and left for dead. Before she gives up the ghost, Ichi manages to deliver her baby, and she implores him to deliver the boy to her husband in a nearby village. Never one to abandon a helpless child, Ichi complies and, with the help of an aging but honorable constable, manages to find the boy's aunt, Oya-e, who's working as a maid in the local inn.

Just as things are looking up, a yakuza boss and his thugs arrive in town to demand taxes from the villagers and the performers in an upcoming festival. The boss threatens to press Oya-e into service as a prostitute, and our man Ichi simply can't stand for that. But his efforts to help Oya-e are hampered by the arrival of her brother - the murdered woman's husband - who mistakenly blames Ichi for his wife's death.


Star Katsu Shintaro's unique brand of humor and wit, along with all the character's usual do-right action and pathos, make this an enjoyable entry in the series. Better still, there's plenty of the requisite trick sword play you've come to expect from these films. The obvious influence of 1970s American filmmaking (visible in the film's camerawork and particularly the soundtrack) makes Zatoichi at Large even more interesting. It's also got one of the most bad-ass final 30 seconds of any film in this series. The action isn't over until the very last cut... literally.

The video on this DVD isn't quite up to par with the other AnimEigo Ichi releases. It's in anamorphic widescreen, but while the colors and contrast are good, the print looks a bit too soft overall. Still, it looks better than many Japanese films on DVD, so it's not worth complaining about. The audio is 2.0 stereo, and while there's a little distortion here and there, it's fine too.

Once again, the extras include both "full" and "limited" subtitle options (offering English translation or translation plus context), trailers (for Zatoichi at Large, The Festival of Fire, Zatoichi in Desperation, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril and Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell), along with more character bios and the usual program notes (providing additional historical and cultural context). You also get another insert card in the case that repeats the program notes. Gotta hand it to AnimEigo - they're making us very happy with their Ichi DVDs.




Zatoichi in Desperation

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Zatoichi 24 - Zatoichi in Desperation
(Shin Zatoichi Monogatari: Oreta Tsue)

1972 (2004) - Katsu Production Co., Ltd./Toho Co., Ltd. (AnimEigo)

DVD REVIEW COMING SOON




Zatoichi's Conspiracy

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Zatoichi 25 - Zatoichi's Conspiracy
(Shin Zatoichi Monogatari: Kasama No Chimatsuri)

1973 (2004) - Katsu Production Co., Ltd./Toho Co., Ltd. (AnimEigo)

DVD REVIEW COMING SOON




Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

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Zatoichi 26 - Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
(Zatoichi 1989)

1989 (2004) - Katsu Production Co., Ltd. (Media Blasters)

DVD REVIEW COMING SOON




The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi/Sonatine

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The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
(Zatoichi 2003)

2003 (2004) - Office Kitano/Miramax (Miramax)

"Beat" Takeshi rules, and aside from the blonde hair choice, he is virtually perfect in the role as the new Ichi. I'm pretty excited that he's at work on a sequel. Here, Ichi stumbles upon two "sisters" (you'll understand why there are quotes around that as you watch the film) who work as geishas but harbor a revenge scheme on the Ginzo gang - a band of toughs who threaten and kill local merchants into doing what they want, and who killed their parents. Ichi gets drawn in, as he's prone to do, and much blood flies from the blade of his razor sharp cane sword. Much like the films in the original series, starring Katsu Shintaro, this film isn't specifically about Ichi. It spends a lot of time with the girls and their blooming friendship with Aunt O-ume, as well as the Ginzo gang and their boss' attempt at hiring a bodyguard who appears in the form of Hattori, a ronin samurai with a sick wife who just might give Ichi the fight he's been looking for all these years. This is definitely a Takeshi film. Its pace, its subtle humor and the outsider take on violence are all his signature. But it's also very much an Ichi film, and you'd be hard pressed after watching four or five random Ichi films (including this one) to recall if it was Takeshi or Katsu in the role when remembering certain scenes. In my book, that alone makes this a success.


This new DVD features the film in beautiful anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese and English dubbed audio. Both sound good, but I prefer the Japanese for obvious reasons. The extras are pretty great if you think like I do. First, there's a very nice (and long) making-of documentary that showcases the film's production from beginning to end, highlighting the weeks of production. It's very fun to watch. There's also a pile of interviews (translated into spoken English on screen) with various cast and crew members. The best extra is Takeshi's brilliant (and sorely-missing-from-DVD-until-now) feature film, Sonatine. It's isolated on its own disc and features the film in a really wonderful anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese audio.

Sonatine is a great film. I hope anyone who thinks they like the types of films I do will hunt it down and enjoy it. Sonatine absolutely stands by itself and defies explanation, outside of the fact that it's a Yakuza film and Takeshi stamped it with his indelible style. Extras for Sonatine include a truly silly intro/outro featurette with Quentin Tarantino, preserved from the original video and laserdisc release, and a new Takeshi interview broken up by theme and translated into spoken English on screen.

These two films, as weird as it is to have them on the same DVD release, fit together in a nice way. If you like Beat Takeshi, samurai, Yakuza or just great films, you need to get this set.




Zatoichi on DVD (Index)

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