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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (Imprint Asia #3) (Blu-ray Review)


The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements


A legendary blind masseur and swordsman comes into town and battles the two rival gangs controlling the area.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Director Takeshi Kitano (Ghost in the Shell, Battle Royale) has crafted his own film based on the character of the blind swordsman. Directing and acting in the starring role, Kitano has in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi created a film that is definitely heavier on style than it is on substance, but it is undeniably entertaining, nonetheless. With comic undertones running throughout, the story takes elements of Kurowsawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo and adds a twist of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western style.

Fans of Asian martial arts cinema will at once recognize the character Zatoichi as the character of dozens of martial arts films and over a hundred television episodes. The blind traveling masseur and swordsman who uses his heightened sense of hearing to overcome expert swordsmen across Japan was originally conceived as a minor character by Daiei Studios but went on to become a popular figure in Japanese entertainment.

Set in Japan’s Edo period, Zatoichi comes to a village overrun by bandits that are ruling with iron fists. Zatoichi allies with two geisha who are there looking to avenge their parents’ death against the leader of the bandits. He must also battle the bandit’s bodyguard, a ronin with lethal sword skills.

The story is not always cohesive, but the comedy helps lighten the atmosphere and smooth over the rough patches. Of course, Kitano’s visual flare is always aesthetically pleasing, even at its bloodiest moments. He never goes over-the-top with gore, but there is a fair amount of violence as to be expected in a samurai-type film.

The fight scenes are marvelously staged and brilliantly choreographed, and the ending offers a twist that must be seen. It ties together the lighthearted and comedic undercurrent of the film in a “gotchya” sort of way. The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival.

  • Takeshi Kitano and Tadanobu Asano in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
  • Tadanobu Asano in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
  • Takeshi Kitano in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
  • Takeshi Kitano in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) – Imprint Asia #3
  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) – Imprint Asia #3
  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) – Imprint Asia #3

The Video

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi was shot on fast speed 35 mm Kodak Vision2 500T 5218 and low speed Eastman EXR 50D 5245 film stocks using Arriflex 435 Advanced cameras with Zeiss Super Speed, Cooke Varotal and Angenieux HR lenses and Arriflex 535B cameras with Zeiss Super Speed and Cooke Varotal and Angenieux HR lenses. Presented on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 AVC 1080p encodement from Imprint Asia, the film looks about as natural as can be and shows the limitations of these film stocks and lenses, such as some low-light noise and washout in black areas with limited contrast, a little bit of film softness, and a somewhat muted palette. This said, it always shows a natural if a bit loose grain structure that is nonetheless satisfying. There does not seem to have been an extensive new restoration taken on this film since the original Blu-ray release from 2009, to be honest, and none has been claimed by Paramount or Imprint.

The Audio

I do not own the 2022 release from Paramount, but the 2009 release from Lionsgate dropped the ball by only providing the English dub in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the original Japanese in a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track. That is rectified here with the original Japanese being provided in both lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo. The disc menu incorrectly lists the stereo track as LPCM 2.0. Like the old Lionsgate/Miramax disc, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is awesome with a wide soundstage, lots of ambience and atmospheric effects in the surround channels and ample amounts of low frequency extension. The stereo mix is also quite ambient with wide stereo panning and dynamics.

The Supplements

Most of what is included with this set has been previously released, but there is a new audio commentary by film historian and author Sean Redmond who gives a delivery that is quite factual and interesting but sounds more like a visual essay voiceover than the typical audio commentary.

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary by film historian and author Sean Redmond (NEW)
  • The Making Of The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (SD/PAL; 00:39:56)
  • Crew Interviews (SD/PAL; 00:38:40)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:01:25)
  • Limited edition slipcase with unique artwork

The Final Assessment

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is an entertaining, multilayered and visceral samurai film that gets better with every viewing. Kitano’s direction and action are top-tier in this film and this presentation from Imprint Asia are excellent.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is out on Blu-ray in Australia from Imprint Asia April 10, 2024.

Purchase The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (Imprint Asia #3) from Amazon.com

  • Rating Certificate: AU: MA
  • Studios & Distributors: Asahi National Broadcasting Company | Bandai Visual Company | DENTSU Music And Entertainment | Office Kitano | Saitô Entertainment | TV Asahi | Tokyo FM Broadcasting Co. | Via Vision Entertainment | Imprint Asia
  • Director: Takeshi Kitano
  • Written By: Takeshi Kitano | Kan Shimozawa
  • Run Time: 116 Mins.
  • Street Date: 10 April 2024
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo
  • Subtitles: English

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A legendary blind masseur and swordsman comes into town and battles the two rival gangs controlling the area.The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (Imprint Asia #3) (Blu-ray Review)