I recall the classic Zatoichi movies with great affection. The lead role was played by Shintaro Katsu, who became inseparable from the role. They were iconic films, perhaps not in the same league as those of the incomparable Akira Kurosawa, but possibly even more influential because there were so many more of them - 26, to be precise, plus 100 TV serials. A later movie came out in 2003, starring Takeshi Kitano, but that's not considered part of the 'Zatoichi canon' by sticklers. (I've seen it, and he does his best, but I think Shintaro Katsu made the role his own.)
Many of the episodes are available on YouTube, but not in very high quality reproductions. Here's an excerpt from 'Zatoichi Challenged', a 1967 film, showing one of the lead character's most famous sword fights. (Remember, he's blind, fighting only by what he can hear and pick up using his other senses.) Watch it in full-screen mode for best results.
I was delighted to discover that Criterion has produced a remastered set of 25 of the original Zatoichi movies (excluding only one of them). They're vastly improved from the earlier versions I saw on TV or on videotape, and provide both Blu-Ray and conventional DVD copies of each film. The set includes:
- New digital restorations of all twenty-five films
- The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Shintaro Katsu
- New interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns
- Trailers for all twenty-five films
- New English subtitle translations
- A book featuring an essays, short stories and 25 new illustrations
My set arrived today, and oh, my, is it good! I obviously haven't had time to watch all of them yet, but I can already tell that the picture quality is far superior to earlier versions, and while the soundtrack is still badly worn or scratchy in parts, they've done their best to make it much more listenable. The booklet adds a great deal of background information of which I wasn't previously aware, and increases my enjoyment of the movies themselves. Overall, a huge improvement over my earlier copies, and money well spent, IMHO.
If you, like me, enjoyed the Zatoichi movies, this boxed set is a must-have. Highly recommended.