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 At Large (1972) is the twenty-third film in the Zatoichi series.
Ichi stumbles upon a woman and assists her by delivering her baby. The woman dies leaving Ichi with only the name of the father and a town, so the masseur takes the burden of delivering the infant to his kinfolk and informing them of the unfortunate woman's demise. Ichi finds the babies aunt, Oya-e, and waits for the child's father, Sataro, to arrive so he can explain what happened personally. But, Oya-e, the surly local constable, and visiting performers are being pressured by mob boss Tetsugoro and his invading band of henchmen who are out to rule the town. By the end, Ichi's good deeds still lead to a tight spot, with both Tetsugoro out for his blood as well as Sataro,
who through a misunderstanding accuses Ichi of robbing and murdering his wife.
Over the course of so many films, there are bound to be repeated things, either because they are expected trademarks of a character or the ease of using some previously utilised plotting tool. The device of pairing Ichi with a baby was used in Fight, Zatoichi, Fight. In that film Ichi's affection for the child definitely was the guiding force behind the entire story, whereas here, Ichi's obligation is more towards the family and delivering the child leads to his mistakenly being pegged as the woman's killer and thief. Part of At Larges tiredness is also seen in Ichi's obligatory face-off with a badass swordsman which is almost comically tacked on at the end.
Directed by Kazuo Mori, who previously directed The Tale of Zatoichi Continues and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man. This film is at the tail end of the Zatoichi film cycle, and it shows. Still, the characters are colorful and despite piling on a few too may twists against Ichi in the finale, his guilt, eventual capture, humiliation, final revenge, and bond with the people he has met make it an enjoyable film in the series.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The film looks fantastic. The films age barely shows with this crisp transfer. It is clean, sharp, has good color details, and deep contrast. There is barely a mark on the print. It is hard to imagine the film looking much better, and Animeigo gets major props for the great job they have done. Their samurai titles are some of the properties they sat on and long promised are "on the way", and this transfer proves they were clearly taking their time in order to present the best product possible.
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. It is more like mono put into two different channels. But, it sounds great and thankfully isn't plagued with any terrible distortions or age wear.
The dual subtitle options let you opt for dialogue and definitions or just definitions. The subtitle translation is very good, though it does skew towards some modernization with words like "bro', johns, pussies", and "apeshit", all of which are terms that I highly doubt would have been used in the films original release days.
Extras: Chapter Selections— Trailers for Zatoichi At Large, Zatoichi and the Festival of Fire, Zatoichi in Desperation, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, Lone wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril and Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell— Detailed Character Bios and Program Notes. While they discuss a bit too much about one scene where Ichi breast-feeds the baby, still there is a wealth of info to be found in a good Shintaro Katsu bio, as well as definitions and historical data.
Conclusion: If you are a fan, already invested into this series, this is a must. A superb transfer. For non-fans, it certianly isnt the best the series has to offer, but should give a decent enough glimpse of what made the series great and hook you into the other titles.