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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 18 - Zatoichi and the Fugitives
Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 18 - Zatoichi and the Fugitives
Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // August 24, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 12, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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Between 1962 and 1974 there were 25 Zatoichi films made. A final Zatoichi film was made in 1989. Add to that a successful television series and a current remake by Beat Takashi, 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, Shintaro Katsu stars as Ichi, a blind masseur, gambler, gangster, lady charmer, deadly swordsman, and all around kind-hearted scoundrel. Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968, aka. Zatoichi: A Letter of Challenge) is the eighteenth film in the series.

During his travels, Ichi has a few run-ins with members of a gang of fugitives and eventually they all arrive in the same town. Ichi befriends the local doctor, Junan, (veteran Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura) and finds a home and some work with the kind man. Meanwhile the fugitives strong arm the local gangster, Matsugoro, into letting them hole up and hide out on his premises. Though it could mean trouble if the fugitives were found under his care, Matsugoro takes the risk so he can use them to murder the man standing up for the local merchants that Matsugoro has been trying to intimidate.

Ichi becomes tanged in the mess when he goes to Matsugoro and insists that he let go of one of his workers, a young girl imprisoned in one of Matsugoro's sweatshoplike mills. Though he does attempt reasoning with them, Ichi has a near fatal fight with the fugitives and the resulting wounds leave him hanging by a thread. However, after Junan and his daughter are taken captive by Matsugoro and pressured into giving up Ichi's whereabouts, the blind swordsman must come to their rescue.

Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, the helmer of Zatoichi's Cane Sword and Daimajin, this entry has a pretty hard and sinister edge. While Ichi always tangles with the bad guys, they are usually typical faceless hordes of just-going-about-their-job gangsters or stone faced, expert swordsmen willing to test their skills for the satisfaction or the money. But, this gang has a vicious streak and a willingness to slaughter the innocent that makes them irredeemable . Likewise, while Ichi has been shown to get hurt or be in trouble, this entry finds him beaten and shot, bloodied and battered more so than usual, or at least until the next to last, original cycle film, Zatoichi In Desperation.

I think this film showed the times were indeed a changin'. The meaner side and more graphic details (I mean,come on. Ichi does the dig out the bullet self surgery thing like he's Rambo), pointed to the more extreme samurai films that were right around the corner, be it the geysers of blood in Lone Wolf and Cub or the penile interrogation of The Razor. Still, the essential appeal of the series, the part everyman/part superman nature of Ichi, shines thorugh, and the gentle relationship he has with Junan is ultimately just as memorable as the carnage.

The DVD: Home Vision Entertainment

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The details are quite good, right down to the stains on Ichi's kimono. Some of the night photography gets a bit murky but the actions still distinguishable. Sure, it looks like a late sixties film; there is some minor wear here and there, but Home Vision has done another fine job securing a good print and cleaning it up.

Sound: Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Some forgivable distortions are present, but nothing that severely hampers the film. As is the case with most mono films, it is really the music and fx noise that suffers the most. While the dialogue is clear, the score can come across a bit muffled and the fx track doesnt have much punch. Still, a good presentation.

Extras: Liner Notes— Poster— Trailers for Zatoichi Challenged, Zatoichi and the Fugitives and Samaritan Zatoichi

Conclusion: A good job all around. Home Vision continues with an excellent job on all fronts, from great packaging design, transfer, and affordable pricing.

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