167 of 169 people found the following review helpful
Zatoichi is an institution in Japanese film, almost like James Bond or Star Trek films, but with the difference that the same actor has played the main character since the series inception, and with an amazing consistency of quality from the original film in 1962 through the final installment, #26, in 1989. Shintaro Katsu played many roles in his life, but in the minds of hearts of everyone who loves samurai films he will always be Zatoichi.
This boxset contains seven DVDs, all from the tail end of the Zatoichi series when Katsu had taken over the production duties on the series. They are all quality films, with "The Festival of Fire" and "Zatoichi meets Yojimbo" being among the best of the entire run. Its a great price for seven DVDs as well, which would cost much more if bought individually.
For those starting out with Zatoichi, the films are diverse enough to give a good feel for the flavor of the series. Funny films and serious films, they all have the charm and appeal that only Shintaro Katsu could bring to the table in a samurai action film. And this is some seriously cool samurai action. Katsu was a great actor, and a great swordsman as well.
The films in this collection are:
Zatoichi #16 - the Outlaw - A complicated story with a vast cast of characters. Directed by Satsuo Yamamoto, who also made the 1968 ghost story "Botan Doro."
Zatoichi #20 - Meets Yojimbo - A highly anticipated showdown between Zatoichi and Toshiro Mifune playing his famous Yojimbo character. Directed by acclaimed samurai film master Kihachi Okamoto, best known for "Sworld of Doom" and "Kill!"
Zatoichi #21 - The Festival of Fire - Considered one of the best entries in the series, directed by the original Zatoichi director Kenji Misumi.
Zatoichi #22 - Meets the One-Armed Swordsman - Zatoichi meets his Chinese counterpart, Wang. Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, who also made the original "100 Monsters: Great Yokai War"
Zatoichi #23 - At Large - A more humorous flick, Zatoichi delivers a baby! Directed by Kazuo Mori, who also made "The Return of Daimajin."
Zatoichi #24 - In Desperation - Directed by Shintarô Katsu, Zatoichi himself, this is a darker, more disturbing entry.
Zatoichi #25 - Conspiracy - Zatoichi meets his long-lost sister. A guest appearance by Takashi Shimura of "Seven Samurai." Also directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda.
127 of 132 people found the following review helpful
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman is an iconic, well loved and well known collection of films (and a TV series in Japan). The character was portrayed in 26 films (27 if you count the failed reboot in early 2000s), and this Criterion Collection... collection, collects 25 of the 26 films in one box.
Criterion has either restored, or received restored film elements for this release, and anyone that has seen the original DVD run, either the Animeigo films or the Home Vision releases, you are in for one of the greatest Zatoichi treats possible. The video quality, even comparing DVD to DVD, between the releases you can't help but see better detail and a higher quality encode over all with the Criterion Collection version.
If you are a Zatoichi fan, you owe it to yourself to own this set, even if you don't (like me) agree with having to spend more money for something you won't really use (the DVDs). The box is beautiful. The hardcover book included is great. The disc packaging is beautiful, though I'm not sure I love the cardboard sleeve concept. Then the box that houses it all really pulls it all together.
For those wanting a longer review of the quality of the release:
Every film has been remastered (there are 3 listed processes, I assume given different film stocks being used change the way they are handled). Frame by frame. Dust, dirt and scratches were repaired, removed or minimized if it meant losing quality.
Each Blu Ray contains 3 films (8 discs total), with the exception of the final disc which contains one film (Conspiracy) and the extra supplements.
Each film is AVC encoded and bit rates are between 20-30 for the most part. There is absolutely nothing to complain about in regards to the transfer to Blu Ray.
I have not seen any issues with any of the colors, or black levels. I've watched roughly 7 of the films as of this review and peeked at the supplements on disc 25. If I run into any issues in the next bunch of discs, I will report it here. I don't anticipate any, given this is a Criterion edition, but it can happen.
I only spot checked the DVDs, but they use the remastered video and bitrates are good, with no compression issues.
So, the Zatoichi films were all recorded in mono sound, and each track here is beautifully restored/remastered from the original film elements. Each is encoded, or rather, not really encoded but put on the disc uncompressed in LPCM.
During my viewing, I heard absolutely no audio issues/concerns. Will update this review if this changes.
I did not check the audio encoding the DVD release.
This is one of the biggest stars of this release.
The plastic wrapper on the set includes the back panel information you expect, but the front uses the Zatoichi brown toned image seen on the Amazon listing on the back. This means that if you pull the wrap off completely, the artwork on the box is completely unmolested. It also means, if you throw away the wrap, you will lose one of the best image, in my opinion, on this set. I slipped the wrap off, looked at the box and put the wrap back on. I'm a nut.
The artwork looks fantastic, if not a bit more pastel than I would maybe like. Even still, it looks great and the box itself is quite sturdy.
The hardback book retains the pastel color scheme on the cover, the interior being black and white text, with an image, in color and illustrated by various artists depicting the film being described, on the opposite side of the film descriptions.
The only thing I don't like, and it's not because it's ugly, it's actually quite beautiful on the outside, is the actual packaging used to house the discs. It's hard to explain how they laid this out, but I'll try. When you open the book style package, all quality-ish cardboard, the right "page" is a cardboard page with a pouch for the Blu Ray. I don't like my discs in cardboard pouches for fear of scratches, especially when the set is $200 MSRP. The other odd thing is the DVDs. The left "page" flips out horizontally, with 2 DVDs are needed for each film set in their own "page" and pouch.
The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Zatoichi portrayer and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, along with a new interview with its director, John Nathan
New interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns
Trailers for all twenty-five films
The Blind Swordsman documentary alone almost makes the price tag worth it in this set. Yeah, I'm over-exagerating, but it's a powerful documentary that really shows the greatness of the character, but more importantly to me, Shintaro Katsu. Worth watching, no question.
This set sweats awesome. Everything about it, with the packaging concerns I have disregarded, is of the highest quality and caliber. I wish I didn't have to buy the DVDs and could have saved a few bucks, but honestly, about $8 a film, less than a visit to the cinema, is MORE than worth it for this set in my eyes. For someone who has never seen a Zatoichi film, it will be a very hard sell, but if you have seen an enjoyed any Zatoichi film in the past that is included in this set, you will most likely appreciate this set.
VERY Highly recommended.
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2005
Zatoichi is great entertainment-and this set collects seven of the best episodes-though I've yet to see any episode that wasn't highly entertaining. Played by Katsu Shintaro, blind (zato) Ichi is a master swordsman who wanders Japan dispensing justice from his sword which he carries in his walking cane. Along the way he earns money as an "Anma" or "Masseur" and as a gambler.
It may sound wierd--but it's top flight entertainment--and historically, the blind in Japan were taught to be masseurs by trade. There's just a perfect blend of drama, action and comedy in these movies to keep things interesting at all times. Nowhere near as bloody as movies like "Lone Wolf"--the fight scenes are very well done--and there's just a little blood and gore thrown in now and then. Katsu Shintaro is just fantastic in this role-and though I also like him as "Hanzo the Razor"-he plays the role of Zatoichi to perfection.
If you're not familiar with Zatoichi--or if you only know the blond, blind Zatoichi from Takeshi Kitano--give this a try--unless you have a hang up with subtitles--you're sure to be pleased!
The seven movies in this set are "Zatoichi the Outlaw", Zatoichi meets Yojimbo" (with Mifune}, "Zatoichi meets the One Armed Swordman", "Zatoichi at Large", "Zatoichi in Desperation", "Zatoichi:The Festival of Fire" and "Zatoichi's Conspiracy"
72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2005
I got this collection without having seen a Zatoichi episode before. I was enthralled right off with Zatoichi, who is not played by Toshiro Mifune by the way, but is played by Shintaro Katsu who is also a superb actor. Toshiro Mifune appears in the episode "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo" and does an amazing bit of swordplay when it is his character's time of confrontation.
Shintaro Katsu has an amazing ability to draw the audience into the "willing suspension of disbelief" in regards to these episodes. Some viewers may find a few of the scenes (in later episodes) to be shocking or disgusting. Fortunately, these are very rare, as are the occasional bad actors that remind us that this is not real but show business. With such things being wonderfully absent in 97 percent of the mix, this collection of DVDs is a great addition to my growing library. I have mostly Toshiro Mifune movies, and the "Spaghetti Western" flavor of this Zatoichi collection fits right in.
Some might say that Zatoichi is like the Lone Ranger or Eastwood's characters where one comes into a town, and defeats the bad guys with wits and amazing talent, dropping the jaws of the locals. Being a blind masseuse, Zatoichi has "super-hearing" much like the comic-book hero "DareDevil" and regularly does amazing feats that are very entertaining and sometimes deliberately humorous.
A really excellent bunch of movies/episodes, so 5 stars is what I give it.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2013
I'll keep this short-and-sweet. This set is one of the most beautiful, thoughtfully-designed, and well-made Blu-Ray/DVD Collector's Set packages I've ever had the luxury of owning. It's a gem. Yes, the discs are all held in cardboard sleeves, but the playing-side of the discs is against a clear, smooth piece of thin plastic, so providing you tease the discs out carefully and don't mistreat the packaging, your discs should remain shiny and spotless for years to come. These are not the same kind of useless cardboard sleeves other manufacturers have used. All of my discs arrived in spotless condition, and I have no doubt they will remain that way, thanks to Criterion's very well thought-out packaging.
This really is a delightful and lovely set, that will take pride of place in any Blu-Ray or DVD collection. Just remember that this set is Region-Locked, so all the DVD's are Region 1, and all of the Blu-Ray's are Region A. Other than that, the films look great, and Criterion have really pushed the boat out on this set. One of the best releases of any set of films from anywhere in the world I've ever seen.
You owe it to yourself to get this collection now!
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2013
As a 40-year fan of the series, really pleased with having a complete set, with crisp and clean sound and picture. Cardboard sleeves? As others have noted, they're line with plastic, I didn't see any problems with disks. Not normally a fan of fancy packaging as it takes up shelf space better used (for me) by books, but this set is a work of art. Beautifully illustrated and designed, pulling out the disks becomes a little bit like a tea ceremony, signaling the start of something special. As for the plastic wrap, the labels pulled off easily for me -- I just stuck them on the book's endpapers.
For those not familiar with the character and the series, for me it combines themes of crime, class, pride, greed, honor, desire, even occasional romance so that even if the settings and character types remain the same, each story seems take on different shading. There is a familiarity to the stories, yes, but they have heart, passion. The rhythm of trust and betrayal creates both suspense and a certain amount of noir fulfillment.
On a purely visual level, the shot compositions are consistently gorgeous, as are the sets. if you're into that sort of thing.
Of course, there's always guys with swords killing each other. But, really, that's the least of it.
So. Highly recommended, from this writer. I picked it up from another vendor half-price, so put it on your watch list, look for the inevitable Amazon deal or Criterion special. Watch the movies, live with them. they're something special.
Now. When is the Lone Wolf and Cub set coming out?
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2005
I'm probably too biased to review this box set in an appropriate manner. I've been a huge fan of the series for years. It would seem to me to be the equivalent of the saturday matinee idea here in the states. A well-crafted, if not absolutely top shelf, series of films. I mean this in the kindest sense. It plays more like an excellent show than, say, a Kurosawa masterpiece. But each episode is solid, no small feat given that these are the last in a 26 film series. A major shift from the first films would be the introduction of a bit more gore and sex (hey, it was the late sixties/early seventies). This may add or detract, depending upon sensibilities. I dig it. Highly recommended.
37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2013
I have only one nagging question about this Criterion release: Why package DVDs on the left of each page and then a BLU-RAY of the same three movies on the right?! Why does anyone need DVDs who has the BLU-RAY? And if our budgets are stretched by the added cost of a BLU-RAY, why can't we just buy the cheaper DVD? Why both?! I just would like to know the rationale behind what seems insane packaging to me. Thank you for allowing me to gush . . . NOW! to my review! When I learned that Criterion was issuing all of the Zatoichi films, I was overjoyed and exhilarated, but then to have wait for three months for the release was a bummer. But the long wait is over and the enjoyment begins. I have been watching the films in the order of release because I want to see how Shintaro Katsu handles the character of Ichi as he progresses through life and, in fact, ages. In those earliest films he looks so young, but I am amazed that this charismatic, versatile actor had already found Ichi's character in those first ventures. It was in film clubs in the early 1980s (before videocassettes and DVDs) that I first met Ichi and fell in love with the character and his stories. There was palpable delight in those small venues as we enjoyed his antics, sentimental attachments and, of course, lightning sword-play. ZATOICHI is formula film-making: the plots are mirror-images of each other, the villains are one-dimensional, often the sentimentality becomes cloying -- but I was not bothered by these issues when I was seeing, at best, two Zatoichi films per month, and - happy surprise! - I'm not bothered now when I sometimes watch one each day. I feel the production values are so superior that I get pulled into each episode with the wonderful details of each setting, the fine acting of guest stars and, of course, the wonderful sword-play, as kinetic an experience in cinema as you could hope for. But none of this would matter were it not for Shintaro Katsu: he is a hero who plays his role as if he were an anti-hero, until those final moments when he effortlessly reveals himself to be the Strong Man who defends the helpless against the greedy. I saw a documentary about Shintaro Katsu on PBS many years ago. When it was over, I wished I hadn't seen it, because the man who was Katsu was not Ichi. All of us who identify with a star go through this disillusionment. I prided myself for years that I was never duped by a Hollywood star into confusing the persona with the person. And yet I fell completely under the spell of Katsu-Ichi. That's why I quoted the line from Yeats in my title because all of us confuse fictional characters and real characters. Why is that? I believe the answer lies in our very genuine human need for exceptional human beings who transcend the ordinary world with its compromises, disillusionments and predictability. I just learned that Shintaro Katsu's older brother, who memorably portrayed base villains in two of earliest Zatoichi films, played the Lone Wolf in that six-film series. I saw those films too back in the 1980s, but I found the violence too extreme and bloody, the character merciless and unrelenting and the stories unrelieved by sentiment and humor. And that brings me back to my delight in this issue of two dozen wonderful Zatoichi films. Ichi is one of the noblest, most admirable, friendliest, wittiest, greatest inventions of world cinema. I know those of us who are his fans will always see the dancer and the dance as one.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2013
Though a few of the actual films deserve 4 stars, the additional material (& quality of the film transfers) are exceptional!
Katso-san would have been proud of this package. The only negative is how tightly the discs are placed into the sleeves.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Zatoichi was a character in a series of 26 Japanese films (released between 1962 and 1989) that starred Shintaro Katsu. If you like Samurai movies, then you will love Zatoichi (even though he is not Samurai, he certainly kills a lot of Samurai with his flashing cane sword). This DVD set includes 7 of the 26 Zatoichi films. This is a really low price for seven movies. Shintaro Katsu was brilliant in these movies.
This film series is set in Feudal Japan. Zatoichi, the main character, is a blind swordsman who wanders the country living hand to mouth by giving massages (Zato can mean masseur or blind man), administering acupuncture, gambling, and singing. In every Zatoichi film, he ends up protecting the weak and defenseless from bullies, gangsters, and scoundrels - - - initially with wit and charm, but inevitably with his flashing cane sword. Ichi routinely manages to kill several dozen heavily-armed Yakuza per film. While Zatoichi may sound like a homicidal maniac, he is really quite charming - - - and you will find yourself cheering for him.
The Zatoichi films totally revolutionized the martial arts film industry in Hong Kong. After the producers and directors in Hong Kong saw the first Zatoichi film, they immediately ramped up the realism of their films.
Thanks to this DVD set and to "Samurai Saturday" on the International Film Channel (IFC), I have seen every Zatoichi film except for Zatoichi #14. I was very, very happy when Amazon offered this DVD boxed set, since I had never before seen any of the included movies. All of the Zatoichi films may be watched independently; sometimes, however, references are made to events in earlier films. You do not need to watch any of the earlier films to completely understand and thoroughly enjoy the seven films in this boxed set.
The first two films of the series are in black and white, the rest are in color. All of the films in the DVD set are in color and have excellent English subtitles.
The 26 Zatoichi films (** next to films in this DVD boxed set):
1. The Tale of Zatoichi, 1962
2. The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, 1962
3. New Tale of Zatoichi, 1963
4. Zatoichi The Fugitive, 1963
5. Zatoichi on the Road, 1963
6. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, 1964
7. Zatoichi's Flashing Sword, 1964
8. Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, 1964
9. Adventures of Zatoichi, 1964
10. Zatoichi's Revenge, 1965
11. Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, 1965
12. Zatoichi and the Chess Expert, 1965
13. Zatoichi's Vengeance, 1966
14. Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, 1966
15. Zatoichi's Cane Sword, 1967
** 16. Zatoichi the Outlaw, 1967
17. Zatoichi Challenged, 1967
18. Zatoichi and the Fugitives, 1968
19. Samaritan Zatoichi, 1968
** 20. Zatoichi and Yojimbo, 1970
** 21. Zatoichi, The Festival Of Fire, 1970
** 22. Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman, 1971
** 23. Zatoichi at Large, 1972
** 24. Zatoichi in Desperation, 1972
** 25. Zatoichi's Conspiracy, 1973
26. Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, 1989
Check out Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD) for a "restored" collection of 25 of the 26 Zatoichi films.