Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
DVD + Blu-ray
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The colossally popular Zatoichi films make up the longest-running action series in Japanese history and created one of the screen’s great heroes: an itinerant blind masseur who also happens to be a lightning-fast swordsman. As this iconic figure, the charismatic and earthy Shintaro Katsu became an instant superstar, lending a larger-than-life presence to the thrilling adventures of a man who lives staunchly by a code of honor and delivers justice in every town and village he enters. The films that feature him are variously pulse-pounding, hilarious, stirring, and completely off-the-wall. This deluxe set features the string of twenty-five Zatoichi films made between 1962 and 1973, collected in one package for the first time.
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The booklet contains a translation of the original "Tale of Zatoichi", a short story on which the first movie is based, which I consider a big plus. The movies depart considerably from this original concept, but it's interesting to see where the character comes from.
It seems to me that the Zatoichi series is a perfect combination of entertainment and art. One may recall the first cinema experiences of serials, cartoons, a western and a Tarzan or possibly The Yearling or The Wizard of Oz, followed by, years later, the experience of the amazing fifties where one experienced the whole range of the art's possibilities - Fellini, Bergman, Dreyer, et al, and the wish to be educated in the cinema. One felt morally superior to having sat through Persona a few times whilst watching The Red House or 3.10 to Yuma or The Big Heat as some guilty pleasure.
It may be though that John Ford managed as well as any to make films that were sizzling entertainment but had a power, cinematic beauty, and sometimes thematic resonance that made them special, and watchable again and again. Another was Samuel Fuller. And so it is with the Zatoichi series.
To briefly summarise what's special about the Zatoichi series: high production values; outstanding acting in depth so that even minor roles stand out; convincing mis en scene; brilliant pacing; romance, comedy, poignancy, action, effective narratives,and an absolute pristine clarity of viewing in delicious black and white films then colour films.
Cinema lovers ahoy!