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. Obviously, what that amounts to is a very endearing character.
For reviews of the first three volumes click one, two, and three.
Episode Fourteen ‟Fighting Journey with Baby in Tow‟- This episode is basically an exact, though shortened repeat of the eighth Zatoichi film, 1964's Fight, Zatoichi Fight. Mistaking her for Ichi, a band of assassin's mistakenly kills a young mother (they saw him get into a covered paladin, which he, out of their sight, gave over to the woman). Feeling guilt over the tragic circumstances, Ichi takes it upon himself to deliver the baby to it's father. Along the way he picks up a traveling companion in a conniving pickpocket and the two slowly find themselves more and more settled into an odd relationship centered around their joy in caring for the baby. Of course, things are not entirely sunny when Ichi finally finds the babies father, who turns out to be a heartless gangster who had sold off his wife in order to pay his debts.
Episode Fifteen ‟Festival Song of the Raven‟- As Ichi defends himself from some begrudging gangsters, he spares one hired sword, Unokichi, who begs for his life explaining that he only took the job to help pay for his sake shop. Ichi gives him the money he needed but warns that he'll come by and check up on Unokichi's shop to make sure the man isn't lying. Ichi makes good only to find the sake shop in shambles, Unokichi never showed up, his wife dies, and left behind are his a young son and his sister. Unbeknownst to everyone, Unokichi was cut down by a swordsman who was tailing Ichi. The masseur tries to help out the family and finds work with a sympathetic gang, but complications arise when a rival gang wants his head and tries to pin Unokichi's death on Ichi.
Episode Sixteen ‟The Winds from Mt. Akagi‟- Ichi happens upon an old aqueaintence, a kind gang boss named Chuji, who was known for always lending a helping hand to townsfolk in need. However, it seems that hard times have befallen Chuji and his men. The government officers have taken over rule of the village and when Chuji opposed them, sealing rations for the townsfolk, it just lead to harder pressure on the villagers and forced his gang to run off into the mountains and hide. Ichi realizes he must try to reason with this once great man who has lost his honor and become increasingly paranoid and stubborn to the detriment of his men and the people he once tried to help.
Episode Seventeen ‟Burning Sunset on Bridal Pass‟- Ochika, a girl Ichi once treated as a child, has grown up and is about to marry. The wedding party is interrupted en route by the slimy local administrator Isosake, who connives his way into handling the final wedding preparations. Turns out, all Isosake wants to do is try to rape Ochika and take her hubby-to-be prisoner because his brother was part of a group that tried to report Isosake's misdeeds to the government. With the groom about to be hung, Ochika distressed to the point of suicide, a mysterious swordsman in the wings, and the townspeople feeling helpless, Ichi is forced to unsheathe his blade and come to the rescue.
The two most unique episodes in the is collection are ‟Fighting Journey with Baby in Tow‟ and ‟The Winds from Mt. Akagi‟. Obviously, ‟Fighting Journey...‟ because it is the first time the show felt the need to draw a pre-existing story from the successful film series. ‟The Winds from Mt. Akagi‟ is interesting in the overall tone. While the series was always character based, often a fight or some kind of action in the third act lead to the resolution. This episode strays from that formula and is a much more drama-heavy tale. The script and dialogue is still fantastic and the dramatic focus, largely minus the usual Ichi-action and brevity, is a welcome stray from the series formula. Japanese exploitation fans will take some joy out of seeing star Reiko Ike in a prominent, though for her very reserved, role. I have to admit, it's weird seeing her in anything where she doesn't take her clothes off.
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." Again, Media Blasters is nice enough to offer this little cautionary statement before every episode, though, I feel it isnt needed, at least not for the hardcore viewers interested in such a title.
Picture: Full-Screen, Standard. Looks good for a mid 70's Japanese tv show. Some damage and age to the elements, like a speck or two, or three and some dirt, and some fading, but honestly nothing any fan should complain about.
Sound: 2.0 Mono. Japanese language with optional English subtitles. My mantra so far for these releases is, considering the age and nature of the materials, the presentation is fine. The same goes here. I still have a bit of a gripe with the choices in translation, which on Media Blasters discs seems to be a bit loose. One character, amusingly, is subbed saying ‟crotch area‟ instead of, oh, I don't know, something less distracting but still comic like the word ‟groin‟.
Extras Nothin', just some Media Blasters release trailers.
Conclusion: I might be getting a bit redundant four volumes in, but I don't care. This is a really charming, fun, and altogether great television series that should entertain anyone who is a fan of the films or just foreign televison and samurai period stories in general. Again, Media Blasters does a fine job with the aged material, delivering a basic but consumer friendly transfer.