Directed by Kazuo Mori
Starring: Shintaro Katsu, Toru Abe, Mieko Kondo
“Good and bad are intertwined like rope”
Shintaro Katsu (1931-1997) is one of the great actors of Japanese cinema. Best known for portraying the character Zatoichi in 26 films and in a television series, Katsu was also an accomplished shamisen player, as well as a vocalist. But, before he was the much beloved Zatoichi, he was the harder to love Suginoichi in The Blind Menace, released by Animeigo.
Before you start thinking that Suginoichi is a lovable man with vision impairment, just like Zatoichi, let me correct you. This character is nothing like the other. And you will know that from the very first scene.
The audience sees a young Suginoichi pick his nose and flick it into a big pail of sake that some men are enjoying. He knows what the outcome will be; they won’t want it after he does this. They give it to him and he, without hesitation, takes it home and gives it to his mother to enjoy. Suginoichi is a charmer, isn’t he?
The audience now sees Suginoichi as a grown man and he is still a contemptible man. He kills an injured man and steals his money then coolly frames an innocent man for his murder. Somehow, Suginoichi winds up getting a job with the Kengyo (a high ranking organization of blind musicians and masseurs). What happened to the man, known as Severed Head, which Suginoichi framed for murder? Why, when good old “Sugi” isn’t working for the Kengyo, they join forces to take advantage of women and con people out of their hard earned money.
Now, just working “with” the Kengyo isn’t satisfying for “Sugi”. No, he wants to be a full member of the Kengyo. He then sets in motion a scheme to make sure he gets what he wants.
While everyone turns in solid performances in The Blind Menace, this is Shintaro Katsu’s show all the way and wow, does he impress as this character. He gives everything he has got to this unsavory character and it works in every frame.
The character of Suginoichi isn’t easy to like. Scratch that, it is impossible to like a character as wicked as “Sugi”, but Katsu brings his natural charisma to this character, like all the others he brought to the big screen, and makes Suginoichi compelling and always watchable.
The direction by Kazuo Mori is rock-solid. Mori is a name you might recognize from the other noteworthy films he has directed: The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962), The Tale of Zatoichi (1974),
Ninja 3 (1963) and many more.
While everyone loves a noble samurai like Hanshiro Tsugumo from the film Harakiri or lovable rascal like Sanjuro in the Yojimbo and Sanjuro films, making a character like Suginoichi gripping and watchable is a feat and the accomplishment of that lies squarely at the feet of Shintaro Katsu, truly one of the great actors of cinema. It is heartbreaking to me to think we have lost so many greats of Japanese cinema, such as Shintaro Katsu, Toshiro Mifune, and Takashi Shimura, just to name a few. We are blessed to still have the great Tatsuya Nakadai with us and working.
I digress. Any self respecting chambara fan is going to add this film to the collection with quickness.
The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen presentation. The transfer is respectable. The black levels are decent and the colors and skin tones are nicely presented. This is a good, but not great, transfer.
The film is presented in Dolby Digital Mono Track audio. The film is presented in the original Japanese language with optional English subtitles. The dialogue is clear throughout and easily understood. Once again, Animeigo does a great job with subtitles. Why can’t everyone do this?
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The film is presented in a standard amaray case with artwork appropriate for the film presented.
There are a few bonus features to explore here. Biographies for the cast and crew are available for your enjoyment. Program notes (always well executed and research by Animeigo) about the cultural and historical aspects to the film are available for your perusal.
Rounding things out is the film’s original theatrical trailer.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5/10
Overall (not an average) 8/10