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Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 4 - The Fugitive

Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // October 22, 2002
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted November 3, 2002 | E-mail the Author
Between 1962 and 1974 there were 25 Zatoichi films made. A final, sort of anniversary, revisionist Zatoichi film was made in 1989. Add to that a successful television series, 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, a gangster, lady charmer, and deadly swordsman... Zatoichi: The Fugitive(196 aka Masseur Ichi, the Fugitive, Zatoichi, Crazy Journey) is the fourth film in the series. Click on the following links for reviews of the previous films: The Tale of Zatoichi, Tale of Zatoichi Continues, and New Tale of Zatoichi.

"Lifes dirt sticks to everyone."- Ichi

After entering a local sumo tournament and thrashing several yakuza, Ichi is attacked by an unskilled swordsman, who informs him that there is a bounty on his head. Ichi tracks down the young mans mother and apologizes for having to kill her son. Once again, Ichi finds himself in a town with a bounty on his head and men with grudges against him. He runs into an old love, whom he did not marry because he felt he was too much of a scoundrel for her, but, he discovers that although he thought she had married a carpenter, she has married a boozing and deadly ronin named Tanakura, who has his blade skills for hire to the local gangs. He also tries to help the innkeepers daughter, Nobu, who is in love with Sakichi, a young mob boss who inherited a mantle he doesn't have the guts for and whose father ruined Nobu's father. The various forces against him lead to a final confrontation where Zatoichi's old love, her formidable husband Tanakura, Sankichi, Nobu, and a gang of yakuza converge, with Zatoichi stuck in the middle, forced and driven to fighting the entire lot.

This I think is a good example of the weakness of film series. Zatoichi: The Fugitive is a great samurai film, full of well defined characters and an interesting plot, but, unfortunately it comes after New Tale of Zatoichi which is just a superior film. Its the classic problem franchises inherit, trying to top or equal the last film. While the previous film found itself focusing quite heavily on Ichi, this time it is mixed up a little more with the women in his life and the cowardly young mob boss Sakichi. Don't misunderstand, it is a very worthy entry in the series, with some great moments, but Ichi standards like the old love and the rival ronin pale to similar old loves and rivals in the previous films Tale of Zatoichi Continues and New Tale of Zatoichi. This entry relies more on the emotion and characterizations, less on Ichi and action, with some standout moments, like Ichi and Tanakura cautiously passing one another on the inn steps, both men sensing that the other is a skilled killer, Ichi's humble flattery when he hears of how legendary his sword skills are, his defiance by going to a meeting of mob heads, all of whom want to see him dead, and the finale which has Ichi and all the principle characters in a dilapidated house surrounded by yakuza, where Ichi finally unleashes his mournful fury.

The DVD: Home Vision Entertainment.

Picture: Letterboxed, 2.35:1, Anamorphic. Wow. Print looks great. There are a few expected flaws that come with age, scenes with slightly weak color, dirt, and some graininess, otherwise this is a fine print. Aside from some minor edge enhancement the transfer is perfect. Fans should be pleased they can throw away those grainy old videos. Home Vision should be commended.

Sound: Japanese Dolby Digital mono with optional white English subtitles. While the first two Zatoichi releases had some slight pops, hiss, and distortion on the audio tracks (which was fine, just a sign of age), The Fugitive has no noticeable distortions; music, fx, and dialogue are fine, with maybe muffle hear and there, but otherwise perfect considering the era of the film.

Extras: 17 Chapters--- Gallery--- Liner Notes--- Zatoichi trading cards.

Conclusion: While not one of the stronger films in the series, Home Vision continues their track record of great Zatoichi releases. A nice print at an affordable price. Chambara fans should be very pleased, and anyone interested in Japanese Samurai Cinema should covet these releases.

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