Media Blasters // 1974 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 21st, 2006
Everyone's favorite blind swordsman/masseur/gambler returns for four more small-screen adventures.
This third volume of Zatoichi is a two-disc set that contains the following episodes from the series' first season:
* Episode 10: "The Sumo Wrestler Who Found His Home"
Ichi (Shintaro Katsu, Incident at Blood Pass) finds himself with an unwanted apprentice after preventing the suicide of a naïve young sumo wrestler with a voracious appetite. Reuniting the kid with his long lost father will not only save the blind swordsman's sanity, but may resolve a conflict Ichi has with a local yakuza boss to whom he owes money.
* Episode 11: "The Whirlwind of Kisoji"
Ichi is caught in the middle when a kindly itinerant doctor and a jaded, gun-wielding yojimbo with mysterious connections to each other's pasts converge on a crime-ridden little town at the foot of Kisoji Mountain.
* Episode 12: "Humanity and Justice"
Ichi crosses paths with Osei, a woman hardened by tragedy. She dresses like a man, knows how to use a sword, and is out for revenge against the Gonzo family boss who betrayed her father. Meanwhile, the boss has his own problem: a spoiled, lazy, preening, henpecking lover.
* Episode 13: "The 1,000 Ryo Raffle"
When a Norita Shrine lottery ticket in Ichi's possession wins big, the blind swordsman attempts to return it to the troubled young yakuza who gave it to him. This act of kindness draws Ichi into the middle of a conflict between the yakuza and his former boss, who stole the young man's wife during his recent incarceration.
Thirteen episodes into its first season, it's become clear that Zatoichi Monogatari is an Eastern analog to American television series like The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk, and especially Kung Fu. Like those shows, Zatoichi offers a wandering protagonist who encounters a cast of fresh supporting players each week, and whose mostly placid and peace-loving behavior is punctuated by interludes of explosive action. One might assume that, since the show is a small-screen continuation of a film franchise with 25 entries, its producers might have been eager to make full use of the narrative sprawl of the weekly TV format. But Zatoichi offers no multi-episode storylines (not yet, at least). The blind swordsman dispatches enemy yakuza and yojimbo at the end of each episode just as he did in the movies that came before. Not that this narrative restraint is necessarily a bad thing. The lean, focused stories keep the show from devolving into soap opera melodrama. And the really good news is that the episodes on Volume Three improve over the already solid offerings in the first two volumes. Episodes 12 and 13, in particular, find the series' writers finally breaking away from the comfortable but threadbare plot formulas established in the film franchise.
The woman-warrior Osei is so forceful a counterpart to Ichi, she almost becomes the lead character in "Humanity and Justice." Her determination to achieve justice for her father is admirable even if she's in over her head. The tense dynamic between Osei and Ichi offers the blind swordsman a new kind of role as he works secretly to help the woman achieve her goal without her knowing his sword skills have proved invaluable in her quest. "The 1,000 Ryo Raffle" places our hero in a similarly tenuous spot, as Ichi is both ally and enemy to the young yakuza betrayed by his greedy, two-faced boss.
The blind swordsman is front and center in both stories because we experience events from his perspective, but he's not the focus of the action. In both episodes, one can sense the show's writers and producers discovering the potential in elevating guest players to star status while allowing Ichi to play a more passive role as an observer and catalyst. A convenience born of the show's weekly format, it would have been impossible in the film series. Future episodes of the series will hopefully follow and expand upon this formula.
As with the first two volumes of Zatoichi, Volume Three's episodes appear unrestored but well-preserved considering their age. Dirt, damage, and coarse grain are abundant in some shots, but not prevalent enough throughout to be bothersome so long as one has reasonable expectations. Color and detail vary from shot to shot, but none of the shots are faded or hazy enough to annoy. Digital artifacts are minimal. The transfer could look better assuming the folks at Media Blasters were stupid enough to sink a load of money into the restoration of such a niche title (which they clearly are not), but it could also look worse.
The audio is in keeping with the video. The presentation is single-channel mono in Japanese. Hiss and other distractions are minimal.
The only supplements are trailers for four other Media Blasters DVD releases: Baian the Assassin, Red Shadow, Samurai Reincarnation, and the 1989 Zatoichi feature film directed by Shintaro Katsu.
Zatoichi is an entertaining, artfully shot pulp action series that gets better with each cluster of episodes judiciously doled out by Media Blasters. That said, it's only recommended for the Zatoichi completist. Unless you already own all of the movies (which are equally pulpy in their sensibilities, but have the advantage of larger budgets and vistas framed at 2.35:1), there's not much point in plunking down your hard-earned scratch for episodes of the television show.
Completists, however, can rest assured that they'll like what they find on Volume Three of Zatoichi: The Television Series.
Bring on Volume Four.
Review content copyright © 2006 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Verdict Review of Volume One
* DVD Verdict Review of Volume Two