Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (Zatôichi to Yôjinbô) (Zatoichi 20) (1970)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Zatoichi: The Festival Of Fire
Trailer-Zatoichi: The One-Armed Swordsman
Trailer-Eastern Eye Promo Reel, Godzilla Vs Megaguirus, Sanjuro
Trailer-Twelve Kingdoms, Infinite Ryvius, Last Exile
|Year Of Production||1970|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (68:25)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Kihachi Okamoto|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
If you were to ask me which actor appears most often in my DVD collection, the answer, unlikely as it may seem, would be Shintaro Katsu. This rotund Japanese actor appears in some 33 feature films I have on disc, the bulk of which are the Zatoichi series.
Zatoichi is a Yakuza, but one who does not belong to any gang. Blind since childhood, he not only has training as a masseur (the traditional occupation of blind men in Shogunate-era Japan) but also in swordsmanship. Despite his handicap, or perhaps because of it, he is a master with the katana. He can draw it with breathtaking speed, and his heightened senses (mainly his hearing) enable him to easily defeat most sighted men in a swordfight. His technique is unusual, holding the sword back-handed so that the blade faces downwards. Perhaps this particular style was adopted because it is sufficiently different from the standard sword grip as to make his abilities less unbelievable.
The traditional occupation of a blind man, at least in Shogunate-era Japan, was as a masseur or anma. Zato is one form of the term Mister in Japanese, and is generally used when addressing blind men. It is also a synonym for anma. Ichi means number one, so Zatoichi basically means Blind Masseur Number One.
The first outing for Zatoichi was in 1962 in Zatoichi Monogatari (The Tale of Zatoichi). Two years earlier Shintaro Katsu had played a blind man in Shiranui Kengyo, and was selected for the role of Zatoichi because of his convincing performance in the earlier film. Apparently the first Zatoichi film was his 94th, which suggests that the listing on the IMDb is somewhat incomplete.
Shintaro Katsu was born in 1931, the son of a well-known kabuki artist. From an early age he and his brother learned the craft, particular the style of singing in kabuki in which Katsu excelled (later he would release albums, and his singing can be heard in a number of the Zatoichi films). In the early 1950s he started in films at Daiei, and appeared in scores of small roles in their films. After his success in the early 1960s established him as a major star, he not only appeared in the long running Zatoichi series (25 films from 1962 to 1973, including 6 in 1964 alone), but also in the Akumyo/Bad Reputation series (14 films from 1961 to 1974) and the Heitai Yakuza series (9 films from 1965-1972). He also found time to appear in and produce other movies. The best known of the latter are the first three of the Lone Wolf and Cub series in 1972/3, as a vehicle for his older brother Tomisaburo Wakayama. Incidentally, his brother worked briefly at Daiei in the early 1960s and appears under another name in the second of the Zatoichi movies.
In the 1970s Katsu started a new series called Hanzo the Razor, but this lasted just three instalments. Once Zatoichi had run his cinematic course, he took the character into television, and made over 100 episodes of his further adventures on the small screen from 1974 to 1979. Film roles began to dry up, not helped by his ego. He was famously sacked from Kagemusha on the first day of filming when Akira Kurosawa realised that he would not take direction.
In 1989 he resurrected the character of Zatoichi for one last theatrical film. Unfortunately, this film was a terrible mess and after 1990 Katsu did not appear in any more movies. Years of living the high life caught up with him, and a series of health as well as financial problems plagued his final years. He died from cancer in 1997.
The first 19 Zatoichi movies were made at the Daiei studios between 1962 and 1968. While these are genre films, they benefit from high-quality productions, with talented people on both sides of the camera. Most were filmed in 2.35:1 and in colour (aside from the first episode), and several were shot by Kurosawa's cinematographer of choice Kazuo Miyagawa. Directors such as Kenji Misumi (Sword of Vengeance) and Kihachi Okamoto (Sword of Doom) directed multiple episodes, and a roster of familiar Japanese actors appear in supporting roles. For one later episode Katsu brought in Taiwanese-born Hong Kong action star Wang Yu to reprise his One-Armed Swordsman character.
In 1967 Daiei was near bankruptcy, so Katsu formed his own production company and continued to make new entries in the series. Most were still distributed by Daiei, though the last three of the initial series were released by Toho, and the final 1989 effort through Shochiku. There was a two year gap between the 19th film in the series and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.
Technically speaking, the title should be Zatoichi Meets a Yojimbo, yojimbo being the term for a hired bodyguard. The title refers to the character played by Toshiro Mifune in two Kurosawa films (though the character's name was actually Sanjuro), and Mifune appears in this film as the yojimbo of the title, named Sasa. Katsu would return the favour by appearing in Ambush at Blood Pass later the same year, in which Mifune was the star.
Zatoichi has returned to a town he visited three years previously, but everything has changed. Like Yojimbo, there are two groups battling it out to find some gold that has been skimmed from the Shogunate Mint. Sasa has been hired by one side to help find it, and is also promised 100 ryo if he kills Zatoichi. But Sasa prefers getting drunk on sake, and he is also wary of the blind man's skill. Umeno (Ayako Wakao), who Zatoichi met three years before, runs the local tavern, and becomes the object of Sasa's interest.
The earlier Zatoichi films rarely ran more than an hour and a half, and most of them were about 80 to 85 minutes long. They ran to a set formula, though each instalment was well-written and few actually feel as if they are formulaic. Generally the story involved Zatoichi arriving in a town or village and coming to the aid of some downtrodden person or group against a corrupt official or gang boss, or both. The latter would have hired some masterful ronin who Zatoichi defeats in a final showdown, usually after he has slaughtered a veritable army of subordinates to the bad guy. And of course, the bad guy himself.
This film runs close to two hours, and follows the usual pattern. But rather than flesh out the story with more swordplay, the film feels padded and consequently less involving than its predecessors. This is a fault of all of the Katsu-produced episodes to some extent, but more so here as (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) we do not get a showdown to the death between Sasa and Zatoichi. A third fighter with a pistol (shades of Yojimbo again) is introduced about halfway through who Sasa ends up fighting. Another problem is that the first two-thirds of the movie has very little in the way of action, the emphasis being on story exposition and comedy. Some of it is quite funny, for example when Zatoichi attempts to avoid imprisonment by wielding a rock in a cloth, and later when Sasa has some fun with him on a staircase in the silk merchant's multi-storey home.
Director Kihachi Okamoto (who passed away recently) handles most of the action well, though I find the fight scenes less convincing than in earlier episodes. The film benefits from excellent cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa and a fine music score by another Kurosawa veteran, Akira Ifukube. While it is by no means the best entry in the series, it is still worth a look, especially if you are a fan of chambara films, a genre of which all too few examples are available on DVD.
The Zatoichi character has more recently been resurrected for a 2003 feature directed by and starring Takeshi Kitano. Kitano decided to make some changes to the character. While Katsu showed his character as blind by turning up his eyes so that the whites showed, Kitano simply keeps his eyes shut (apart from one brief moment). Kitano also dyed his hair white and carried his sword inside a lacquered red cane, unlike Katsu's bamboo model. Kitano also uses a more visual style of humour (Katsu's is mainly character-based). Even so, a couple of times he pays homage to the original series by taking a typical Zatoichi situation and doing something different with it, such as the scene in which Zatoichi decides that the dice game is rigged. I have heard that a sequel is planned.
Of the 26 films starring Katsu as the blind swordsman, 25 have been released on DVD in the US. The Daiei-produced films have been released by Home Vision Entertainment, barring the 14th entry Zatoichi's Pilgrimage which is in some sort of rights limbo with Katsu's estate, at least as far as an international release is concerned. It has been released on DVD in Japan but without English subtitles. The final 1989 entry has been released by Koch and the other seven have come from the boutique label AnimEigo, who had previously released the same titles on VHS but obtained new high quality transfers for their DVD releases. In the UK these seven films are available on DVD from ArtsMagic, albeit sourced from AnimEigo's VHS masters. That company has released a DVD called Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, but this is in fact Zatoichi at Large, the 23rd episode.
While Shock are releasing the earlier entries in the series in Region 4, Eastern Eye are in the process of issuing the seven later films using transfers sourced from AnimEigo. This title is one of three in the first wave, which also includes Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire and Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman.
The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.
This is a reasonably good transfer which suffers from a slight loss of detail due to NTSC to PAL conversion. When the camera and the actors are still, the image is sharp and there is a good level of detail. However, any motion results in a slight blurring. Contrast and brightness are quite good, though shadow detail is lacking. Colour is reasonable, if a little dull.
The major film to video artefacts are as described above. There is some slight aliasing at infrequent intervals, and also some edge enhancement. Film artefacts are few. There are some scratches at times, and there are some tiny white specks in varying frequencies throughout, plus some dust and dirt.
Optional English subtitles and surtitles are provided. The subtitles are generally in yellow, though when two characters are carrying on a conversation the subtitles for one character will be in white. The surtitles are used to explain some terms used in the subtitling (for instance, anma and mon) and are useful if you are not familiar with these terms. The surtitles are in white. All of the dialogue is subtitled, and these subtitles are the same translation as the Region 1 disc from AnimEigo. Therefore they have American spelling (the same Americanisms which I found annoying on that disc) such as "gonna", "c'mon", "ya" and even "bro". One good feature of the subtitles is that the entire opening credits are titled. Usually in Japanese films we only get the first couple of star names and the director.
This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change at 68:25, well positioned at a cut.
The sole audio track is Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, despite the cover saying that it is 1.0.
The audio is good within the limitations of the original recording. Dialogue is clear and sound effects come across well. Hiss is audible and there are a couple of pops as well, but nothing serious.
The music score is by Akira Ifukube, who is perhaps best known in the West for the theme music for the Gojira (Godzilla) series. His score here is not a standout, but it is effective and used with discretion.
|Surround Channel Use|
A small batch of extras. I will note here that there are several errors on the packaging. There are two spelling mistakes, plus the copyright date for the film is given as 1965, though it was made in 1970. This error is probably carried over from the Region 1 release, which has the same error on the cover and on the copyright information that appears before the film.
The main menu features an animation of a hand wielding a sword, with some scenes from the film and some Japanese music which doesn't seem to come from the film.
Trailers for the other two releases in this series by Eastern Eye.
More propaganda for Eastern Eye and Madman.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The US Region 1 comes from AnimEigo and is the source of the transfer used in Region 4. The Region 1 is slightly sharper and more vivid than the Region 4. It has the same film artefacts and the same aliasing and edge enhancement artefacts. Unlike the Region 4, the Region 1 has a stereo soundtrack. I would not call the stereo mix a brilliant one, but it does have some slight directional effects, with dialogue placed in the soundstage according to their position in the frame. The disc has a trailer for the Lone Wolf and Cub series, character biographies and some useful liner notes, which are duplicated on a thick paper insert.
The UK Region 2 is from ArtsMagic, and was apparently sourced from the master used by AnimEigo for their VHS release. I have not seen this disc, but based on other similar releases by this company I would rule it out of contention.
The Hong Kong All Regions release from Mei Ah is, as you would expect from this company when it comes to their Japanese film releases, of inferior quality. While it is 16x9 enhanced, it is not nearly as sharp as the Region 4, and it has poor colour as well, based on the screen caps I have seen. It also lacks English subtitles.
There is a Japanese Region 2 disc, of which I know nothing except that it does not have English subtitles.
I would have to recommend the Region 1 release ahead of the Region 4, but the Region 4 is not so bad, and if you don't want to go to the expense of getting the US version the Region 4 is acceptable.
Not the best of the Zatoichi series, but quite good nonetheless.
The video quality is pretty good, but not quite as good as the Region 1.
The audio quality is satisfactory.
No substantial extras.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175|