I haven't seen the DVDs yet, but I've seen the first 16-17 films in the 26-film ZATOICHI series on the INDEPENDENT FILM CHANNEL several months ago (they are currently being rerun on the channel, on Saturday mornings and afternoons). All the films are quite good (with some notable standout episodes, like ZATOICHI & THE CHEST OF GOLD, and ZATOICHI & THE CHESS EXPERT)! All were shot in 2.35:1 ratio, and the first two films are in black & white, the rest in color.
If you enjoy samurai flicks, particularly Kurosawa's tongue-in-cheek YOJIMBO and SANJURO, then ZATOICHI is right up your alley. The films fall into a formula (corrupt officials scheme to increase their power base and/or revenue stream, through strong-arm tactics and assasination against poor locals, Zatoichi stumbles in (usually while doing a favor for a stranger), and craftily saves the day), but it's a very enjoyable formula, with numerous interesting variations throughout the series. They play even more like good westerns than some other samurai flicks I've seen.
Unlike other samurai characters (such as Mifune's warriors, and Itto Ogami of the LONE WOLF & CUB/BABY CART series), Shintaro Katsu's Zatoichi character is down-to-earth, ingratiating, witty, sometimes buffoonish, though he too has his stoic side. Besides being a swordsman of almost supernatural ability, he's also a gambler (also of high ability, think James Bond), and a fair masseur (the films indicate that massage was the prime career choice of Japan's blind in those days). Lots of great swordplay, but very little blood/gore, though I've heard that later installments of the series are grimmer/bloodier, and Shintaro Katsu went on to produce the legendarily bloody LONE WOLF & CUB/BABY CART series, starring his real-life brother (!) Tomisaburo Wakayama.
The first two Zatoichi movies seem to me to be a bit more somber than subsequent entries, although that may be due to the fact that they're in black & white. The first film is a bit longer than the films usually are (typically a little over 80 minutes), and the second film is perhaps the shortest (around 73 minutes; also, its ending seems fairly abrupt).
The first two films are also a bit more interrelated than later entries; in the second film, Zatoichi returns a year later to the town he spends most of his time in in the first film, relating to some of the same characters. The (Janus Films) prints shown on IFC looked pretty good, though I have no idea whether new tranfers have been made for the DVD editions. Some of the earlier color films were a bit light/faded, so I hope some work will be done on those before Home Vision releases them on Region 1 DVD later this year. I can't speak or read Japanese, but for what it's worth, the English subtitle translations seemed better-than-average to me. I didn't feel that I was missing anything, or that dialogue was being badly-conveyed. I believe Animeigo is planning on releasing some/all of the later Zatoichi films that Janus/Home Vision doesn't have the domestic rights to on DVD, including ZATOICHI MEETS YOJIMBO (with Toshiro Mifune), perhaps even later this year.
Anyway, everyone should give Zatoichi a try (especially those of you whot are fans of the cartoon SAMURAI JACK, which borrows bits from the ZATOICHI and LONE WOLF & CUB films); they're fun & fairly accessible foreign adventure films. Hope this was of some help.
Since this thread has been started I guess I can jump in
too. Yes The Blindswordsman adventure series was my all time favourite movie series during my youth. Never misses an
episode. I thought that there was a total of 13 movies only
and never did realised that it was more than that. They even
have a TV series but the only TV series shown over here in
Singapore was The Sumarai series.
Since the advent of VCR & VHS tapes I was longing to own
the series but it was not to be. I guess they did not put
it on VHS then. Shintaro Katsu was cut out to be Zatoichi
The Blind Swordsman a role only he could possibly portrayed.
Only recently did I managed to collect a few titles on VCDs
produced in Hong Kong and is looking out for more.All are in
widescreen or Tohoscope, Toho being the company which produces the series.With DVDs coming out on the series I hope they can reach Singapore.
My VCD collection now are : Zatoichi Monogatari(B&W)
Zatoichi & Yojimbo (Color)
Zatoichi at Large (Color)
Zatoichi & The Chess Expert(C)
Zatoichi Jigokutabi (Color)
Zatoichi in Desperation(Color)
Zatoichi Conspiracy (Color)
With the series on either VCDs or DVDs it sure bring back
good old memories. Don't expect much on video & audio becoz
of the dated films and sound but that do not prevent me from
expanding my collection.
Oh one more thing to add guys. During the early60s/70s where
the Blindswordsman series was very popular, there were alot
of Hong Kong sword fighting epics produced. One was The One
Armed Swordsman,starring Jimmy Wang Yu. One can say he was
'THE'swordsman of Hong Kong produced flicks.
There was a collaboration between Toho films & Shaw Brothers
films that produced a movie titled The Blind Swordsman versus The One Armed Swordsman it was really awesome. Some
how I hoped that either a VCD or DVD can see the light of
day on that movie.It was from this joined effort that
spawned the martial arts film genre later.
The Chinese Boxer,also starred Jimmy Wang Yu, pitted Chinese martial arts against Japanese karate and later
we have Bruce Lee's & Jackie Chan's martial arts films coming on to join in the trend. I am still hunting for these
I was just reading DVDFile's review of the first Zatoichi dvd and to my surprise the review states that the transfer is anamorphic. I've read a couple of other reviews that state otherwise. Am I to take it that DVDFile is in error here?
I picked these up at Best Buy of all places this week. I haven't had a chance to watch them yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I saw part of one of the movies on IFC on Saturday, and it was rather enjoyable.