Zatoichi! The blind masseur and master swordsman! He's fifteen shades of deadly when wielding a katana, and gives a mean neck rub to boot! He rights wrongs, sticks up for the little guy, battles bravely against injustice, and walks proudly throughout feudal Japan as a living legend of truth and righteousness. Huzzah! Seriously: if you're not familiar with the legend of Zatoichi, then you simply haven't seen one of the most entertaining and action-packed film series to ever grace the medium. And with nearly all of the films available on DVD, now's the perfect time to acquaint yourself - there's over two dozen of them, so get cracking.
As good a place to start as any is Zatoichi's Conspiracy, a somewhat formulaic but generally fun entry in the series. The great Shintarô Katsu returns to his signature role as the title character with his usual amount of warmth and gusto. This time around, Ichi has returned to the village of his youth for the first time in two decades. The kind aunt who raised him has passed on, but in searching for her he comes across a young girl who also was raised by his aunt, and they become fast friends, step-siblings if you will. Meanwhile, a childhood chum named Shinbei has also returned to the village. The prosperous Shinbei has offered to pay off the village's entire tax burden, to the immediate charm and delight of the townsfolk. However, this seemingly selfless gesture is only a front for a cunning and nefarious powerplay in which Shinbei gains control of the town quarry, to be used and exploited for his own benefit, the health and safety of the townsfolk immediately placed in harm's way.
Can Zatoichi save the town from ruin by going up against a childhood friend? Well if I answered that particular question, you wouldn't need to watch Zatoichi's Conspiracy, and then you'd only be depriving yourself of a pretty fun little flick. If anything, this is the perfect "rainy day" film, filled with colorful characters, a solid storyline, and some slam-bang action (mostly towards the end of the film). How does it rank when compared to all of the other Zatoichi flicks? Probably somewhere in the middle, but given the company that's fairly nice praise indeed.
Zatoichi's Conspiracy is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the transfer has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen viewing will and pleasure. The super-swell folks at Animeigo have struck a brand new transfer from a new 35mm print, resulting in a video presentation which is rich in color and remarkably smooth in delivery. The transfer isn't crystal-clear and pristine perfect, but that can hardly be expected. Sharpness levels are a little lacking, with some evident softness throughout the pictures, but colors are vibrant and alive, with excellent contrasts, deep blacks, and a smooth and artifact-free transfer.
The audio is presented in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0. The audio sounds a tad clipped and boxed-in, with thin dialog levels and limp orchestrations. The soundtrack is free of noise, hiss, or distortion. It's a clean presentation of decidedly limited source material.
The extras on this disc include trailers for Zatoichi's Conspiracy, Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman, Lady Snowblood - Love Song of Vengeance, and Lone Wolf and Cub - White Heaven in Hell. There are also text character biographies for the main characters of the film, program notes that provide background information and historical contexts, and the credits for both the film's cast and crew, as well as for the Animeigo staff. Take a bow, guys.
If you're a Zatoichi fan, picking up Zatoichi's Conspiracy is a no-brainer. If you're new to the series, it makes for a great place to start. The transfer is rock solid and while the extras are pretty light, they still add value to the package. It's a fun movie and a pretty solid DVD, and definitely merits a Recommended rating. Watch this movie and you'll be enthusiastically swinging around a bamboo sword in your living room, with your eyes closed, in no time! DVD Talk cannot be held responsible for damage to your home theater equipment, priceless donkey figurines, and/or so-called loved ones. Especially Andre. Little bugger had it coming...