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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman - 25 Zatoichi films from 1962 to 1973 [Blu-ray]

 

(Kenji Misumi, Kazuo Mori, Tokuzo Tanaka, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Kazuo Ikehiro, Akira Inoue , Satsuo Yamamoto, Kihachi Okamotom, Shintaro Katsu, 1962-1973)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Daiei Motion Picture Company (Daiei Studios) / Katsu Production Co. Ltd

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #679

 

Blu-ray Disc 1: Description: Disc Size: 47,231,843,138 bytes
The Tale of Zatoichi
(Kenji Misumi, 1962)
 
The epic saga of Zatoichi begins

Feature Size: 17,546,330,112 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.81 Mbps

Running Time: 1:36:20.399

Chapters: 15

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues
(Kazuo Mori, 1962)
 
Zatoichi is hired to give a massage to a powerful political official who, he discovers, is mentally ill—a secret that the nobleman’s retinue is determined to keep at any cost.

Feature Size: 13,049,843,712 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.53 Mbps

Running Time: 1:12:30.971

Chapters: 13

New Tale of Zatoichi
(Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963)
 
Zatoichi is back—and in color! Hoping to leave violence behind, the blind masseur wanders to a village, where he meets an old friend fallen on hard times.

Feature Size: 16,459,978,752 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.49 Mbps

Running Time: 1:31:37.909

Chapters: 13


Blu-ray Disc 2: Description: Disc Size: 46,769,694,176 bytes
Zatoichi the Fugitive
(Tokuzo Tanaka,1963)
Zatoichi triumphs at a village wrestling match, much to the chagrin of his yakuza opponents. The defeated gang members pay a hotheaded ronin to take out the masseur; unbeknownst to them, the hired assassin is married to a former flame of Zatoichi’s, further complicating matters.

Feature Size: 15,659,931,648 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.74 Mbps

Running Time: 1:26:15.587

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi on the Road
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1963)
The itinerant Zatoichi comes across a dying man, who begs the masseur to escort a young woman back to her family in Edo. The honorable swordsman agrees, but in so doing, he catapults himself between two warring yakuza clans, each with its own interest in kidnapping the girl.

Feature Size: 15,954,671,616 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.74 Mbps

Running Time: 1:27:49.681

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold
(Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964)
After arriving in a small village, Zatoichi finds himself accused of stealing the citizens’ hefty tax payments. To clear his name, he must face off against a corrupt official, a succession of hired blades, and a bullwhip-wielding titan.

Feature Size: 14,975,170,560 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.74 Mbps

Running Time: 1:22:27.359

Chapters: 13


Blu-ray Disc 3: Description: Disc Size: 46,707,968,115 bytes
Zatoichi's Flashing Sword
(Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964)
The blind swordsman is shot and nursed back to health by kind strangers. He soon discovers that his saviors are caught between sparring crime lords; bound by honor, Zatoichi stays to ensure their safety.

Feature Size: 14,949,439,488 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.75 Mbps

Running Time: 1:22:14.971

Chapters: 11

Fight, Zatoichi, Fight
(Kenji Misumi, 1964)
While on the road, Zatoichi befriends a young mother right before she is savagely murdered. Promising her that he will hand over her baby to its father, the blind masseur embarks on an adventure both sentimental and beset by perilous action.

Feature Size: 15,925,911,552 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.74 Mbps

Running Time: 1:27:41.297

Chapters: 15

Adventures of Zatoichi
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1964)
The blind swordsman wanders into a town to celebrate the New Year. There, he befriends a young woman whose father has gone missing; as he tries to help her find him, he becomes entangled in a web of corruption and a series of tragic twists of fate.

Feature Size: 15,654,549,504 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.73 Mbps

Running Time: 1:26:13.585

Chapters: 11


Blu-ray Disc 4: Description: Disc Size: 46,727,879,741 bytes
Zatoichi's Revenge
(Akira Inoue, 1965)
Nearing the village of his sensei, Zatoichi decides to pay the teacher a visit, only to learn that he has been murdered and his daughter forced into prostitution.

Feature Size: 15,564,036,096 bytes

Video Bitrate: 21.34 Mbps

Running Time: 1:23:31.631

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man
(Kazuo Mori, 1965)
An elderly prisoner accused of murder begs Zatoichi to find evidence of his innocence. The blind swordsman, for the first time, chooses not to help, but fate has other plans for him.

Feature Size: 14,592,208,896 bytes

Video Bitrate: 21.57 Mbps

Running Time: 1:17:32.064

Chapters: 11

Zatoichi and the Chess Expert
(Kenji Misumi, 1965)
Kenji Misumi, who directed the first installment of the Zatoichi series, returns with this tale in which the blind swordsman once again finds himself the protector of a child: a little girl pursued by both devious family members and bloodthirsty ruffians.

Feature Size: 16,393,592,832 bytes

Video Bitrate: 21.48 Mbps

Running Time: 1:27:26.658

Chapters: 13


Blu-ray Disc 5: Description: Disc Size: 46,702,330,212 bytes
Zatoichi's Vengeance
(Tokuzo Tanaka, 1966)
Zatoichi encounters a dying man, who asks the itinerant masseur to deliver a bag of money to his young son; he agrees to fulfill the request, finding the boy in a village terrorized by criminals.

Feature Size: 14,884,122,624 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.50 Mbps

Running Time: 1:22:49.381

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi's Pilgrimage
(Kazuo Ikehiro, 1966)
Troubled by his violent past, Zatoichi begins a journey to a series of shrines for a dose of cleansing spirituality. But as always, trouble isn’t far behind, and the blind swordsman soon finds himself defending a widow from the self-interest of ruthless thugs and despicable townsfolk.

Feature Size: 14,808,840,192 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.46 Mbps

Running Time: 1:22:32.364

Chapters: 17

Zatoichi's Cane Sword
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1967)
Wearying of his wandering lifestyle, Zatoichi yearns to settle down; unfortunately, when he does so it’s in a town overrun by yakuza. He has an eye-opening encounter with the town’s blacksmith, who reveals himself to be the apprentice of the man who forged Zatoichi’s legendary cane sword.

Feature Size: 16,829,644,800 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.61 Mbps

Running Time: 1:33:09.000

Chapters: 15


Blu-ray Disc 6: Description: Disc Size: 46,871,616,897 bytes
Zatoichi the Outlaw
(Satsuo Yamamoto, 1967)
Zatoichi arrives in a town where a gambling house is kidnapping its poor, debt-ridden patrons. A rival establishment moves to pay those debts and free the peasants, but this second house’s seemingly altruistic boss is actually laying the groundwork for a ruthless money-grabbing scheme.

Feature Size: 16,845,477,888 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.07 Mbps

Running Time: 1:35:27.763

Chapters: 20

Zatoichi Challenged
(Kenji Misumi, 1967)
A dying woman begs Zatoichi to reunite her son with the father he has never met, but when the blind masseur searches for the man, he discovers that he has been forced by a local yakuza boss to pay off his gambling debts in an unusual way: by painting illegal erotica.

Feature Size: 15,302,344,704 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.02 Mbps

Running Time: 1:26:41.613

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi and the Fugitives
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1968)
The wandering swordsman finds himself in a small village that serves as hideout for a band of fugitives who control the town officials and enforce brutal slave labor in the local silk mill.

Feature Size: 14,543,732,736 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.01 Mbps

Running Time: 1:22:20.352

Chapters: 13


Blu-ray Disc 7: Description: Disc Size: 47,458,566,522 bytes
Samaritan Zatoichi
(Kenji Misumi, 1968)
Hired by a yakuza boss to eliminate an accused debtor, Zatoichi fulfills his task, only to witness the victim’s sister paying the owed amount minutes later. When the crime lord tries to possess the woman along with the cash, the blind swordsman wrestles with the injustice he has caused.

Feature Size: 13,288,538,112 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.01 Mbps

Running Time: 1:22:55.387

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo
(Kihachi Okamoto, 1970)
Zatoichi treks to a village that has always been a favorite spot of his, only to discover that it’s become a living hell, plagued by feuding father and son yakuza as well as the younger crime boss’s bodyguard—Toshiro Mifune’s scruffy, smart-mouthed, cash-hungry Yojimbo of legend.

Feature Size: 18,583,984,128 bytes

Video Bitrate: 17.99Mbps

Running Time: 1:56:04.374

Chapters: 20

Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival
(Kenji Misumi, 1970)
Cowritten by star Shintaro Katsu, this adventure pits Zatoichi against one of his most diabolical foes: a blind yakuza boss whose reign of terror and exploitation has made him nearly mythic.

Feature Size: 15,406,374,912 bytes

Video Bitrate: 17.99 Mbps

Running Time: 1:36:17.188

Chapters: 15


Blu-ray Disc 8: Description: Disc Size: 46,406,396,161 bytes
Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1971)
It’s East meets East when one of Japan’s action idols crosses paths with an iconic kung-fu hero from Hong Kong.

Feature Size: 15,872,243,712 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.98 Mbps

Running Time: 1:34:33.084

Chapters: 15

Zatoichi at Large
(Kazuo Mori, 1972)
Zatoichi comes across a pregnant woman dying from sword wounds and helps deliver her baby. Her final request to him: take the boy to see his father.

Feature Size: 14,810,621,952 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.01 Mbps

Running Time: 1:28:09.701

Chapters: 13

Zatoichi in Desperation
(Shintaro Katsu, 1972)
Star Shintaro Katsu sits in the director’s chair for this psychedelic and unremittingly bleak entry in the Zatoichi series, which is unlike any other in its grind-house grimness.

Feature Size: 15,544,891,392 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.99 Mbps

Running Time: 1:32:35.967

Chapters: 13


Blu-ray Disc 9: Description: Disc Size: 43,331,833,770 bytes
Zatoichi’s Conspiracy
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1973)
Capping off Zatoichi’s feature film era before he made the transition to television in 1974, this chapter is suffused with melancholy, closing the series on a note of seriousness and emotional heft that it has well earned

Feature Size: 19,554,772,992 bytes

Video Bitrate: 25.99 Mbps

Running Time: 1:27:48.304

Chapters: 15

Extras (see below)  

 

Discs:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Case: Custom Blu-ray case, with book:

 

 

Release date: November 26th, 2013

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.30:1 - 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio Japanese 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras (all on disc 9):

The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Zatoichi portrayer and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, along with a new interview with its director, John Nathan (57:37)

Serialized Success (27:13) - new interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns
Trailers for all twenty-five films
PLUS: A book featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien; synopses of the films by critic, novelist, and musician Chris D.; “The Tale of Zatoichi,” the original short story by Kan Shimozawa; and twenty-five new illustrations inspired by the films, by twenty-five different artists

Dual-Format; 18 DVDs with all the content of the 9 Blu-rays (total of 27 discs)

 

Bitrate:

Sample (The Tale of Zatoichi)

 

 

Description: 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.

 

 

The Films:

"Zatoichi films are all pretty similar. There are gambling (dice) scenes, Zatoichi vs. large gang fighting scenes, massaging scenes (usually of beautiful women), Zatoichi eating and drinking scenes, bath scenes, travel sequences, often a scenes with a child (or children) - and they all wonderful."

Yeah - we are big fans of Zatoichi here at DVDBeaver (pronounced za-toe-itchy as opposed to za-toy-chi). Before we settled into a 'style', many years ago - we did webpages for many of the  HVe DVD titles from the early 2000s (and one Animeigo) including Zatoichi: Tale of the Blind Swordsman, Zatoichi Part 2:The Tale of the Zatoichi Continues, Zatoichi Part 3:New Tale of Zatoichi, Zatoichi # 9 - Adventures of Zatoichi, Zatoichi's Revenge ( #10 ), Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (#11), Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (#12), Zatoichi's Cane Sword (#15), Zatoichi Challenged (#17), Zatoichi and the Fugitives (#18), Samaritan Zatoichi (#19) and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (#20).  But I had not seen them all. Until now.

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Obviously, I will only give an overview as details on each specific image quality might take more than an entire page. Firstly, the entire package is 18 DVDs and 9 Blu-rays for a total of 27 discs.  8 Blu-rays have 3 films each, in series order, and the 9th BD disc has the 25th film and some supplements. All Blu-ray discs are dual-layered and the bitrate and specific technical statistics are posted above. Comparisons is still our favorite method of analysis for image quality so we have compared a dozen below to their Home Vision Entertainment DVD counterparts.  The improvement is clearly evident - notable in color (only the first two of the series are in black and white), contrast, detail and a lack of artifacts, heaviness and flaring that pop-up on most of the Zatoichi-series SD transfers - if only minutely. The 1080P is pretty consistent and I only had an issue with #16 Zatoichi the Outlaw - which suffered a bit in the beginning 1/3 of the presentation looking poorer than the rest. This was definitely a source issue and I saw no untoward examples of digital manipulation. Most of the film visuals improve as the series number escalates. We are in-and-around 2.35:1 aspect ratio for all. There is some depth and as I stated in another Zatoichi review "One other consistent element is that they all are shot in glorious widescreen and contain some exquisite cinematography. I always find at least a couple of scenes in each film of this series to be quite breathtaking - certainly worthy of pondering over." It is possible that they could have looked even better with single disc transfers but that would make for quite a bulky package. I have gotten used to watching 3 in a row anyway. Bitrates are generally around 20 Mbps and support the films reasonably well. This Blu-ray package has no extravagant flaws, except noted on #16, and supplies pleasing, and occasionally, impressive HD presentations. I was vey happy with how this video looked and I expect most will agree.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

HVE - Region 1 - NTSC DVD TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

The film's audio is transferred via a linear PCM mono track (in original Japanese) at 1152 kbps. I would suggest that there seemed to be more inconsistencies here than with the video. A few of these openings can sound quite scratchy - one to the point of irritation. Generally though, flat and exporting some depth in the sword-wielding effects.

 

Aside from some exceptions (ex. Kunihiko Murai doing the score for Zatoichi at Large and Zatoichi in Desperation - as well, by the way, for films like Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, Tampopo and Shogun Assassin) and Ichirô Saitô (The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold and Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman's Pilgrimage and, more notably films like Ugetsu Monogatori!), the bulk of Zatoichi series has original music composed by Akira Ifukube. Included in his massive resume are cool films like The Mysterians and the original Godzilla (and other Godzilla features.) I think the musical scores are a big factor in the appeal and tempo of the films. Their measured pace (in times of calm) mimic the lead character and set a contemplative tone and then build tension in the pre-but-imminent battles - finally exploding in the kinetic energy of the fray. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as all being a region 'A'-locked discs.

 

Extras :

With 8 Blu-rays containing 3 films each - the extras are shared with the 25th film on the last, 9th, Blu-ray disc. The supplements included are John Nathan's hour long, 1978 documentary entitled The Blind Swordsman. It's a candid and less-glossy look at the professional and personal life of Shintaro Katsu, the star of the Zatoichi series. It is accompanied by a new interview with Nathan who shares his memories of Katsu and the making of his film. Serialized Success is a 27-minute new interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns who offers his thoughts on the popularity of the Zatoichi series, its main character and some of the key talents involved in making it. There are also trailers for all twenty-five films, plus the cool package (see photo above contains a book featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien; synopses of the films by critic, novelist, and musician Chris D.; “The Tale of Zatoichi,” the original short story by Kan Shimozawa; and twenty-five new illustrations inspired by the films, by twenty-five different artists. The package is 'Dual-Format' and includes 18 DVDs that have all the content of the 9 Blu-rays.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
There is something about these films that gravitates beyond a simplistic appeal. They have a depth and the main character has many enigmatic layers. These Zatoichi-series films were a great choice for Criterion to release in such a Blu-ray package - 25 films! I think they went about it the right way - 3 per dual-layered disc producing consistent and impressive transfers. I envy those who have not, yet, been introduced to Zatoichi, because this package is a fabulous way to dive head-first into his world of heroic gestures, merciless sword battles, gambling, Yakuza, justice, murder, beautiful women and our protagonist's unbridled sensory magic! God, I love it! Essential! 

Gary Tooze

November 15th, 2013

 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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