Written and Directed by Takeshi Kitano
Starring Takeshi Kitano, Todanobu Asano, Michiyo Ookusu, Gadarukanaru Taka
“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”
The first samurai film I saw was Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. It blew me away and ever since, I have loved chambara cinema with a passion. So, when Takeshi Kitano announced he was going to bring the well beloved character Zatoichi (played by Shintaro Katsu in 26 feature films and 112 episodes of a TV series) back to the big screen, I was skeptical. While I love Takeshi Kitano, I just didn’t know if anyone could fill Katsu’s shoes. Did it work? Miramax recently released The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi on Blu Ray.
Here is a quick introduction to the character Zatoichi: Zatoichi is a fictional character featured in one of Japan’s longest running series of films and a television series set in the Edo period. The character, a blind masseur and swordmaster, was created by novelist Kan Shimozawa. A total of 26 films were made from 1962 to 1989. From 1972 to 1974, a television series consisting of 112 episodes of the same name was made. In 2003, Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed and starred in the 27th Zatoichi film.
Other than this information, all you need to know is that Zatoichi is a badass but a badass with a good heart and good intentions. He is always willing to lend a hand or a sword to help those in need.
So what happens in the 27th installment of the film? Well, the blind masseur and former samurai Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano) is drifting, emotionally and physically, and arrives in a small village. And, Zatoichi soon learns that three lords Inosuke Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe), Tashichi Ogi (Saburo Ishikura) and Funahachi (Koji Koike) run things with an iron fist. He helps an old woman and she lodges him at her home. It isn’t long before Zatoichi is gambling and the old lady’s nephew becomes close to him and Zatoichi helps him in his bets.
Of course, geishas are always in the cards for Zatoichi and it isn’t long before he meets Seitaro ‘Osei’ Naruto (Daigoro Tachibana) and Okinu Naruto (Yuuko Daike), a rather mysterious geisha duo that are chasing the killers of their parents, Inosuke, Tashichi and Kuchinawa, for over ten years seeking revenge. The less I reveal about Osei and Okinu the better: it is better for you to discover their secrets for yourself.
Zatoichi decides to help the village and get rid of the criminals and help the geisha duo to boot. Never underestimate the skills of this seemingly unassuming blind man.
While the tone of this installment in the film series has a definite yet restrained mix of comedy, I enjoyed this film and in particular, Kitano’s performance as Zatoichi, Daigoro Tachibana’s portrayal of the mysterious geisha Osei and Todanobu Asano as the cold and cunning Genosuke, the bodyguard.
The cinematography is eye-catching. My only complaint is just a bit of overdone CGI blood splatter, but it is a small complaint.
Bottom line, this would make a fine addition the samurai film collection of any discerning film fan. If you haven’t already watched them already, this should make you immediately add any of the Shintaro Katsu Zatoichi films to the Netflix queue immediately.
The film is presented in a dual layer 1080P/AVC MPEG 4 anamorphic widescreen. The overall image is crisp and vibrant. The color palette enhancement from the source material affected the skin tones but everything else looks respectable.
The film is presented in DTS HD 5.1 Master Surround Sound. The film is available in the original Japanese language with English subtitles and a English language dub. I preferred the subtitles. The overall sound was well presented and mixed well with ambient noises. The dialogue was always crystal clear.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The film is presented in a standard blu ray amaray case with artwork similar to the original DVD release and movie posters. The art is fun and reminiscent of old school kung fu movie art.
Behind the Scenes Special clocks in at an impressive 40 minutes and is presented like a production diary. It follows the film from the initial announcement that the film was being made all the way to the completion of the film. I enjoyed this featurette immensely.
There are several video interviews to explore on this release. There are interviews with Katsumi Yanagishima, Norihiro Isoda, Tatsumi Nikamoto and Kazuko Kurosawa.
Rounding things out are trailers for other Miramax Films releases.
Overall (Not an average) 7/10
The Movie 7.5/10
The Video 6.5/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10