Between 1962 and 1974 there were 25 Zatoichi films made. A final, sort of anniversary, updated Zatoichi film was made in 1989. Add to that a successful television series, and , obviously, with that many hours of entertainment devoted to one character, what was created was nothing less than a beloved cultural icon. Set in the age of rouge samurai and Japan's equivalent to the American Western, Shintaro Katsu stars as Ichi, a blind masseur, gambler, a gangster, lady charmer, and deadly swordsman.
Zatoichi In Desperation (1972) is the twenty-fourth film in the Zatoichi series.
After Ichi is the blind witness to an old woman's death, he goes to visit the old woman's daughter who she said worked in a brothel. The girl, Nishikigi, is the brothels top whore. Ichi feels obligated to the girl, and despite a nearby mob boss having a bounty on his head, Ichi stays in the village with the intent of buying out Nishikigi's contract and winning her freedom. Ichi's gambling skills and deception bring him a lot of money and he gets Nishikigi's freedom, but the bounty on Ichi proves to be too tempting to Nishikigi and her lover Ushi.
The next to last film in its decade long cycle, Zatoichi In Desperation finds star Shintaro Katsu behind the camera, something he would only do once more in his career with Zatoichi '89. Katsu handles the camera well, throwing in some trippy rapid editing here and there while framing the action nice and wide.
The story not only has a third act surprise (and having a shock when it's the twenty-fourth film in a series says a lot) but also has a moving sub-plot involving a brothel servant girl trying to support her little brother. Ichi only meets her briefly, but we are told her story anyway. It rounds the film out nicely because although Ichi is not even really involved with her, the events that happen to her and her brother tell us of the community that Ichi is helping after he gets tangled up in fighting gangsters- again.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The picture looks great. While the evidence of its age remains apparent in gerneral film stock areas like the amount of grain and color, the print is in great shape and is very clean. Even in the night scenes, the contrast is deep and detail levels very sharp. An excellent print that fans should be very pleased with.
Sound: Dolby Mono/Stereo. The box cover has the film listed as basic two channel stereo, though it doesn't sound to my ears like a stereo remixing of the original mono source. More than likely, it seems the mono track has been doubled in the right and lift channels, an old trick that gives a fuller sound but no actual true stereo separation.
Two subtitle selections let you choose between full dialogue with definition translation or just definition translation. While I don't speak Japanese, I cannot help but notice they probably modernized some of the speak. For instance, someone uses the word "kooky" and the term "roll the bones" is used instead of "roll the dice." I'm not complaining, its not so often or glaring that it is bothersome, and it could be so much worse like having Ichi start saying "Whazz' up dawg."
Extras: Chapter Selections— Trailers for and — Character Bios and Liner Notes. When it comes to liner notes, Animeigo does it right, providing a insert as well as on disc text about various terms, historical, data, film info, and a Shintaro Katsu bio.
Conclusion: Well, it is pretty easy to recommend. If you are into Zatoichi, its the twenty-fourth film to put on your DVD shelf. Those new to the Zatoichi world will want to check out ealier films first. For fans- Quality transfer + Good film = Get it.