Zatoichi, the blind masseur, gambler, and scamp swordsman, is obviously beloved. How else to you explain that after a over a decades worth of films (26 total), being shuffled to another studio, and in the face of waning box office receipts, Shintaro Katsu and his signature character moved onto tv screens for 100 episodes of Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman aka. Zatoichi Monogatari (1974)? Obviously, what that amounts to is a very endearing character.
For reviews of volume one and two, just click on Volume One and Volume 2.
Episode Ten ‟The Sumo Wrestler Who Found His Way Home‟- Ichi meets a sweet, sad sack of a sumo wrestler named Diahachi, who has been kicked out of sumo school. An orphan, who's only trade is wrestling, the poor guy would rather commit suicide than go hungry. A little kindness, a meal, and a gambling demonstration goes a long way, and Ichi gets an unwelcome tag-along in the kid. When Diahachi's information about his real father sparks Ichi's memory, he tracks down the man, Nehei, a former gambler gone good. But, through coincidence, Nehei was supposed to play host to a sumo tournament involving Diahachi's school; however gangsters are muscling their way in to take advantage.
Episode Eleven ‟The Whirlwind of Kisoji Mountain.‟- Ichi is being chased by an gang of peeved gangsters. After camouflaging himself to avoid them, Ichi is mistaken for a horse thief because the hungry animal followed him, munching on his grassy subterfuge. Being jailed is only a brief respite. As soon as Ichi gets let go, he is shot by a marksman the gangsters hired. He manages to stumble his way into a mountain village where a kind doctor, Geira, gives him sanctuary and treats his wounds. But the gangsters arrive in the village and begin to demand Ichi's head. The gunman, a former pupil of Geira's who has become a drunk, feels great guilt over his actions. Will, Ichi recover fast enough to defend himself and the poor townsfolk? Well, this was episode eleven out of around a hundred. Take a guess.
Episode Twelve ‟Humanity and Justice.‟- Osei is a woman trying to masquerade herself as a butch gangster. (It isn't really clear wether anyone is supposed to think she's a man, on one hand she's surprised the blind Ichi is able to tag her as a woman, yet her sexuality doesn't seem to be a secret to the gangsters to whom she tries to gain favor.) Ichi and Osei have a night of drunken revelry and Osei reveals that her father was killed by members of the Gonzo gang. Ichi warns her that she is in over her head trying to tangle with them, and, of course, ends up having to come to her aid.
Episode Thirteen ‟The 1000 Ryo Raffle.‟- Though Ichi takes a backseat for much of this story, my personal fave of this volume. Ichi helps out a drunken samurai, Shinsuke (guest star Yoshiro Harada- Lady Snowblood 2, The Yagyu Conspiracy), who has passed out in the middle of the road. Shinsuke gives Ichi a raffle ticket for his unwanted help, and the ticket turns out to be a winner. Shinsuke is a deservedly bitter man, just released from an island prison because he killed a rival yakuza boss for his gang. In the meantime that he's been away, his boss/friend has shacked up with Shinsuke's wife, but Shinsuke just steams over the situation because he has a sister to take care of and doesn't want to cause too much trouble. When Ichi tries to return the ticket, he ends up getting involved in the sticky situation between Shinsuke and his scheming yakuza boss and unfaithful wife.
Suffice to say, if you like Zatoichi, you like Zatoichi. One of the many wonders about the character is how even after twenty-plus films Ichi still remained just as engaging on the small screen. Predictable and formulaic? Sure. But, like a good cup of coffee in the morning, you get used to and welcome the routine.
The DVD: Media Blasters.
"This feature has been transferred from the original 1974 elements. Due to the age of the materials some imperfections do exist."
Picture: Full-Screen, Standard. Now, Media Blasters was kind enough to preface every episode with a warning (see above) about the age and wear and tear on the transfer. The warning wasn't really needed. Considering the elements are from a 30+ year old Japanese television show, they may be a little spotty with some dirt damage, but this is to be expected. Probably the biggest minus can be chalked up to the actual production- episode twelve's finale where Ichi is fighting at night, surrounded by fireworks, comes across as a little too dark.
Sound: Dolby 2.0 Mono. Again, considering the age and nature of the materials, the presentation is fine. It is limited, but luckily there isn't too much damage, severe hiss or distortion, and the tracks remain well recorded, dubbed, and scored.
Some thing that kinda' irked me but didnt really grab me until the third volume is the subtitle translations. At first, I just forgave that a word or two seemed questionable, but now I'm a little peeved because it seems to be a trend, the fault of a bad translation staff. There is a prevalence of slang like ‟bro‟ and ‟quack‟ that play cute, using distinctly Westernized terms where more standard translations would suffice. I know to a translator it may seem clever, making a gruff bad guy talk some 20th century thug. But this ain't Samurai Champloo and it just ends up taking the viewer out of the period context of the episode.
Extras: Nothin'... just some Media Blasters release trailers.
Conclusion: Another great job, fine transfers, fine series. If you've got volume one and two, keep on getting them. As a big fan, I hope Media Blasters continues with these releases.