Zatoichi, Vol. 5
Media Blasters // Unrated // $29.95 // August 29, 2006
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted October 7, 2006
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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 four volumes click one, two, three, and four

Episode 18: "Rush Trip"- Gambler Seitaro makes a hit on a gang boss and gets injured during his getaway. Knowing nothing more than Seitaro is outnumbered, injured, and being attacked, Ichi helps him escape (plus, of course, Ichi has a natural instinct for those with good spirits). Seitaro racked up some big gambling debts and the gangsters pressured him into assassinating their rival in order to square up. Seitero is pushed further because they took his woman, a wandering beauty he just met and fell for, as collateral. The gangsters, being gangsters, have no intent to live up to their deal. They just want their rival killed and the girl for their personal pleasure and profit.

Episode 19: "A Rainbow Over My Homeland"- While traveling to village that holds a festival every three years where you can be ‟reborn,‟ Ichi meets a cook named Soukichi, who tells Ichi to go to the Fokube restaurant for the areas best meals. Ichi finds the food and the environment to be quite the opposite, bad grub, dancing floosies, and glad-handing gangsters. It turns out that Soukichi is the adopted son of the resturaunt owner. Soukichi left three years prior because he took the rap for a killing made by his lowlife brother Seji, the restaunt owners blood son. During Soukichi's absence, Seiji has gambled away the restaurant and piled up debts. The return of the favored son hurts Seiji's ego and dastardly plans to sell off his sister.

Episode 20: "Female Boss and Her Wolves"- Ichi goes to pay respects to a gang bass that once befriended him. The boss' wife (she is only referred to as ‟the lady fo the hunting grounds‟) took over the gang, but, now in her golden years, she wants to break up the crime family and go legit. Problem is, the rival gang's son, Matsugoro, who she helped raise, has become power hungry and a strong-arm gang leader. Her own son, Kosuke, who she had sent away to become tradesman, returns with intentions of taking over the gang. So, she is left with a troublesome problem, unable to give her gang to a greedy, mean rival or the son she hoped wouldn't take up a criminal life.

Episode 21: "The Little Flower by the Lake"- IN the wee hours of a foggy morning Ichi overhears a lovelorn couple discussing their problem- debts so bad that the man, Sentaro, talks of suicide. Ichi gives them some money and a few hopeful words and moves on. Ichi meets a sweet prostitute named Okyu, who tells him of how she is awaiting her one true love who should be returning soon to pay off her contract and take her away. Then, Ichi gets wind of Sentaro, selling off his girl to the gangster brothel owner and the story is too similar to Okyu's. It seems that Sentaro is a scammer, wooing young girls and convincing them to sell themselves into brothel house servitude.

At this point, I think its safe to say you can add the tag ‟And Ichi tries to come to their rescue and resolve the conflict, the only way he knows how.‟ To the end of every episode. Ichi is The Equalizer only with a blade and no sidekick. He's even a bit Columbo, only with a blade and no eyes. This series of episodes is pretty good, book ended by two solid, more memorable eps. The series writers were smart to use Ichi as a near satellite character. While he never quite takes a backseat, his role of wanderer ensures that we see the bulk of whoever has the problem, getting to know them, with Ichi intervening at different times especially the conclusion. Great character work in every episode, from the bitter blood of the yakuza brothers in "Female Boss..." or the heartbroken lasses in "The Little Flower..." Lord knows, I wish the uS had this kind of television in the 70's. Beats the hell out of Love Boat.

This set has one of my favorite Ichi moments. In the ‟Little Flower by the Lake‟ Katsu goes into full comic mode during the fight finale, doing a Jackass-like bit where he smoothly cuts down a handful of thugs, only to miss an open doorway and run full steam into a wall. Plus,. There is a bit with Ichi inside a barrel which is simultaneously cute and badass.

The DVD: Media Blasters.

NOTE: Five volumes in, I'm feeling myself get repetitive, so I'm going to give in and cut and paste from one of my other reviews. Rest assured, if there was any glitch, drop or improvement of quality I would note it.

Picture: Full-screen. Standard. Like the first volume,and second, and third, and fourth, this one comes with a word of warning about the age of the elements. I think it was barely needed. The episodes show a high grain level, some color fade, and some dirt and specks, none of which is uncommon or out of line with a 30 year old material from Japanese televison. With four 45-50 min, episodes spread out over two discs, compression artefacts are minimal/to non-existent.

Sound: Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Again, like I said above (and throughout every Zatoichi release), considering the age and nature of the materials, the presentation is fine. Luckily, Father Time hasn't plagued the soundtrack with too many instances of severe hiss or distracting distortion, and Katsu's theme song vocals remain warm and inviting. The subtitles are good too, well-timed and accurate.

Extras: Nothin', just some Media Blasters trailers.

Conclusion: Apparently there were around 100 episodesof the tv series, so Media Blasters is nearly a fourth of the way through. Well, I'm in it for the long haul. Give me all of em'. This series is a real charmer, Ichi's a great character, and Shintaro Katsu about as enegmatic an actor that has graced the screen.

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