You can't go home again.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when the Yakuza ruled the land and people lived in fear. Only a lone, blind masseur was willing to stand up for the safety and well-being of the common man. These are the tales of Zatoichi—one of Japanese cinema's greatest heroes—now in color!
Facts of the Case
Shin Zatoichi Monogatari (New Tale of Zatoichi) is the third chapter in the legendary series. Months after his deadly showdown with the combined forces of the Sukegoro and Kanbei crime families, Ichi (Shintaro Katsu) is still haunted by his actions. Returning to the place of his birth, to settle his mind and soul, our tormented hero runs into a childhood friend. While catching up on old times at a neighborhood bar, a gang of street thieves breaks in to terrorize and rob its patrons. Ichi's momentary peace is once again shattered. Unaware his past is about to catch up with him, Ichi once again sets out to avenge the lives of the innocent.
While not as engaging as the first two films, Shin Zatoichi Monogatari is a character drama, delving deeper into Ichi's past. Director Tokuza Tanaka does an exceptional job of weaving multiple plot threads together: Ichi's guilt and torment over the direction of his life; an unexpected reunion with his former sensei, struggling with his own moral dilemma; a mysterious well-trained renegade gang of marauders using extortion to fund their activities; the revenge seeking brother of slain Boss Kanbei; and the unconditional love of a woman who wants Ichi's hand in marriage. That's a lot of story to fit into a 91 minute film, but somehow it all works—albeit often at a plodding pace.
The film remains true to the vision series, with the advent of color adding a level of dimension and depth not seen before. The cinematography—again heavy on night scenes—is beautiful, using both light and shadow to underscore the many levels of gray between good and evil. Each village and home Ichi visits suffer from the Hanna-Barbera affliction of looking too similar to distinguish. It is really the exterior shots and fight sequences which give the film its scope and grandeur.
From an acting perspective, Shintaro Katsu brings so much emotion and believability to the character it often puts the other actors to shame. In this case, his mentor played by Seizaburo Kawazu, challenges Katsu for the attention of the audience. Each actor exhibits a commanding presence when onscreen. Ichi's love interest, played by Mikiko Tsubouchi, also gives an exceptional performance.
In terms of the physical evidence, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer appears dirtier than its two predecessors. Granted, the print is nearly 40 years old, but on the surface it would appear that HVE did not spend as much time or money on its restoration. The colors are muted—perhaps a sign of the times—and the blacks fall to the softer side of solid. The Dolby 1.0 audio track is functional, as the series consists of more dialogue than anything else. Bonus features are few, consisting of theatrical stills and enclosed trading cards.
For film buffs not opposed to reading English subtitles, this really is a fascinating series. A martial arts soap opera, if you will. In fact, many of the themes and devices found here can be seen in today's most popular epic series—Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, et cetera. If you haven't seen any of these films, I recommend giving them a try. However, do so as a rental or borrow. At $19.95 each, purchasing the series could get a little expensive—and they really aren't something you will watch repeatedly.
This court dismisses any criminal charges leveled against Shin Zatoichi Monogatari. HVE and Ichi are free to roam the countryside fighting for truth, justice, and the ancient Japanese way. This court now stands in recess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
• Theatrical Still Gallery
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