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Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 19 - Samaritan Zatoichi
Featuring one of the better stories in the series run, it begins with Ichi renting out his services to Boss Kumakichi who is looking to collect some payment from a drunken gambler. The man insists his sister is coming with the money, but his aggression forces the gangsters ire. Though he gives him fair warning to come peacefully, Ichi ends up killing the indebted man, and sure enough, moments later, his sister, Sode, arrives with the payment.
Ichi feels tremendous guilt, and, when the thugs insist she be taken as interest for her brother's debt, he comes to her rescue and defends Miss Sode. Turns out Boss Kumakachi has some other motives, mainly he wanted Miss Sode all along as a payoff to the local government inn bigwig who is enamored with her. Ichi becomes Miss Sode's protector, and she is both happy and repelled, recognizing both Ichi's heart and the fact that he is the man who killed her brother.
Directed by the godfather of samurai films Kenji Misumi (numerous Zatoichi, Sleepy Eyes of Death, Lone Wolf and Cub and The Razor films). This installment has a lot going on, and the driving force behind the movie, Ichi's desire to protect Miss Sobe and reign in the violence that usually ends up haunting him is present in every frame. That really the central conflict of the character, that his skill in fighting seems to be the only way he can solve a problem, but it always has a cost. Aside from a great concept, it also has a great supporting cast. Now, while the films always feature solid acting, there is no doubt Shintaro Katsu commands every frame he is in, that is why the role became his signature character. But this film features some supporting roles that don't mange to be left his wake quite as much.
On Ichi's side are Miss Sobe and an everyman samurai he befriends named Shinsuke. The lovely Yoshiko Mita plays Miss Sobe, and among a film series often filled with beautiful women, she is among the most striking and delicate, yet still able to sharply portray the sadness and anger that her character feels. Though his appearance is brief, Shinsuke, as played by Ko Nishimura, is so damn likable, I wish their could have been a Hope and Crosby team-up of films with Ichi and Shinsuke hitting the road together.
Of course, a standard of the series was the badass samurai that Ichi would eventually have to confront. This time it is Kashiwazaki, played by Mahoto Sato. The introduction is great- Ichi falls off a bridge into the shallow water, and Kashiwazaki coldly hops over Ichi and continues on his way. Japanese film fans should recognize Mahoto Sato's face; he is one of the great character actors who pops up a lot, especially in 60's and 70's Japanese genre cinema. He's in Message from Space, and I always tend to associate him with Sonny Chiba's Executioners, where he succeed in being the most sleazy macho guy in a film full of sleazy macho guys. I've always likened him as the Japanese Henry Silva. The guy has a mug that would make Jack Palance cringe, and in Samritan Zatoichi he manages to become one of Ichi's most memorable foils.
The DVD: Home Vision Entertainment
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The titles cards are set against shifting set of technicolorful frames, so what better judge can you get for how the print is going to turn out? Overall, it looks pretty decent. Sharp details. Good color. Adequate contrast. The print has some age wear and tear, most notably in the final reel where sharp eyes will notice some deterioration at the bottom of the frame. Nothing too drastic, still pleasing, and the little quibbles are no big deal considering the films age.
Sound: Mono Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Again, there are the usual limitations of the era. Overall, it is pretty good. The music has some booming moments. Very little distortion, and even the fx noise, like the sword clangs, seems sharper than on other Zatocihi features.
Extras: Liner Notes— Poster---- Trailers for Zatoichi and the Fugitves and Samaritan Zatoichi.
Conclusion: Get it. Another fine job by Home Vision. Great film in the series.