The beloved Zatoichi saga continues with Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman, a reliably delightful and action-packed entry into this beloved series. This particular film is the 22nd in the long-running series, and was the last to be produced by the legendary Daiei studio; soon afterwards, even the even more legendary Toho studio took up the Zatoichi reins. In any case, the result is a typically entertaining Zatoichi adventure: full of swordplay, humanism, humor, bloodletting, and everything else that makes Saturday-afternoon Samurai Cinema so gosh-darn fun.
For those of you who are not in the know, Zatoichi is a masseur and travelling swordsman, whose utter blindness hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the most skilled and deadly warriors in Japan. During his usual travails of walking around the Japanese countryside and slicing up brigands, thieves, murderers, and yakuzas, he comes across a young Chinese boy whose entire family has been slaughtered in an ambush. The ambush also took the lives of a royal envoy with a load of abalone on its way to the Shogun, and every witness, farmer, and civilian in the area was also slaughtered. The local scuttlebutt indicates that a visiting Chinese martial artist was responsible for the heinous act, but the truth lies beyond common knowledge. Adding to the story's intrigue is the fact that this wanted Chinese martial artist is indeed a formidable opponent, but he only has one arm! When Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman finally confront each other, will it be as friend or foe?
One thing I really enjoy about the Zatoichi series is the fact that they balance the action scenes, with a good deal of back story, character development, humor, and plot. Those expecting wall-to-wall action may end up being slightly disappointed by these films, but enjoy the fact that the filmmakers take their time to create a world full of fascinating characters, solid storylines, and smaller moments that make these movies seem richer and fuller than others of its type. The films may not be masterpieces, but they make for one hell of an exciting ongoing serial.
So how does that saying go? "In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King"... I think I got that from an episode of Babylon 5, so I'm not exactly trying to blow smoke up your butt with some ersatz erudition. So how can I exploit that slight piece of trivia to my prosaic advantage? Hmm... "In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Armed Swordsman kicks ass!" Man, that sucks. But this movie doesn't. It's one of the most exciting and entertaining Zatoichi films ever shot... well, that's certainly a glowing bit of hyperbole, isn't it? The truth is, I haven't seen every Zatoichi film. I've probably seen maybe eight or nine of them. But I got everything I wanted out of Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman, except for maybe a llama, and a tall order of grappa.
Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for you widescreen-viewing illumination. The picture, while far from impeccable, looks pretty swell, especially if you've experienced any earlier video iterations of the film. Image detail is a little soft, and colors, while smooth and stable and generally satisfying, can be a little bit muted at times. The print is remarkably clean, with nary an artifact or piece of compression noise to be found. Animeigo did a thorough restoration on this title, and the end result shows. This is the best the film has ever looked.
The audio is presented in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0. The soundtrack definitely shows its limitations; there is some occasional harshness, while dialog levels seem a little low. Dynamic range was definitely clipped, but the mix was free from annoying hiss and pops. The quality of the presentation is acceptable, but limited.
Extras include trailers for Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman, Lady Snowblood, Lady Snowblood - Love Song of Vengeance, Lone Wolf and Cub - Sword of Vengeance, as well as text-based character biographies and program notes.
The presentation isn't perfect, but Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman looks and sounds as good as one could imagine it to be. The extras are light but if you're here for the film, you're going to end up very satisfied. This would even make a great start for you curious Zatoichi newbies, if you are so inclined to enjoy 90-minutes of ear-slicing Samurai wonderment. So off with you!