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The Digital Bits: We Know DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD & High-Definition
page created: 12/19/03
updated: 6/13/06

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

We've said it before and it's likely we'll say it again and again. It's the little things that make life grand. The little pleasures... like steaming hot rhubarb pie, killer klowns, spaghetti westerns or a good giant robot flick. But nothing, and we mean nothing, is better than watching a blind samurai kicking all kinds of ass in the comfort of your own home theater. Todd knows it's true, Bill know it's true... we've even gotten Matt to see the light recently.

Of course, there's only one blind samurai worth his salt... the legendary Zatoichi, as only the late, great Shintaro Katsu could play him. 26 original Zatoichi films were made in the 60s and 70s, and they're as popular in Japan as the James Bond films are elsewhere. All but one are now available on DVD in the U.S., and if they're not part of your video library already... well, that's why we're your friends here at The Bits. It's our responsibility to remind you of the importance of such things, so your other so-called friends don't shake their heads in sadness and just give up on you.

In addition to the original 26 films, there was a Japanese TV series in the 1970s, featuring Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi, called Zatoichi Monogatari. The series lasted four seasons, with some 100 hour-long episodes produced in all (26 in 1974, 29 in 1976, 19 in 1978 and 26 in 1979). Media Blasters has obtained the U.S. release rights to this series, and has begun releasing the first season on DVD. If sales are good, they'll continue and eventually release the complete series. If anyone has an accurate list of all these episodes, please e-mail me.

More recently, a new "remake" film has been shown in theaters in the U.S. and Japan, called The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. It's written and directed by Takeshi Kitano (also known as Beat Takeshi), and stars him in the title role. It's now available on DVD in the U.S. from Miramax.

In conjunction with the new film, an hour-long documentary on the Zatoichi films was shown on TV in Japan, called The World of Zatoichi (a.k.a. Zatoichi no Sekai). It's available in Japan on DVD (Region 2), but unfortunately is not subtitled in English to our knowledge. We have no knowledge of a U.S. release.

We should note that all of the films in the series are now available on DVD in the U.S. (from Home Vision, AnimEigo and Media Blasters) save for one... Zatoichi's Pilgrimage (#14). We've recently learned that Miramax purchased the U.S. DVD rights for this film a number of years ago, when director Quentin Tarantino was apparently interested in re-making it. At least he WAS interested, until Takeshi Kitano created his own updated version. The future of Tarantino's project is now uncertain. Unfortunately, equally uncertain as a result of this has been the original Zatoichi's Pilgrimage's U.S. DVD release. We believe the DVD release rights MAY have gone with the Weinsteins as part of their split from Miramax. DVD titles from their new The Weinstein Company are now being handled by Genius Products, and they've just launched a new Dragon Dynasty DVD label to issue Asian cinema releases. We'd like to STRONGLY encourage The Weinstein Company (or whoever owns the rights) to release this film on DVD as soon as possible, regardless of Tarantino's plans.

On a related note, Artsmagic released a film called Zatoichi's Pilgrimage on VHS and DVD in the U.K., but the film is NOT the real Pilgrimage. It's actually #23 Zatoichi at Large, simply misnamed. Artsmagic would do well to fix their mistake, and correctly label the film.

Here's a little trivia for you. Star Shintaro Katsu himself directed Zatoichi in Desperation and the final film in the series, Zatoichi, but he choreographed nearly all of the sword fights in the films himself. He also produced several of the films, and others as well, including the popular Lone Wolf and Cub series of films which starred Katsu's older brother, Wakayama Tomisaburo. It may surprise you to learn that Katsu was originally to have played the title role in Akira Kurosawa's 1980 Kagemusha (the role was written for him). It was eventually played by Tatsuya Nakadai, when Katsu and Kurosawa were unable to resolve a conflict in their work methods. Another long time Kurosawa collaborator, Toshirô Mifune, starred with Katsu in two films: the 1970 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (produced by Katsu, in which Mifune reprised his role from Kurosawa's original 1961 Yojimbo) and the unrelated Incident at Blood Pass (which Mifune produced). For those who may be interested, both the Lone Wolf and Cub series and Incident at Blood Pass are distributed in the U.S. by AnimEigo, and will eventually be released on DVD.

Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi
So there you go... everything you need to know about Zatoichi on DVD. When we learn more about those titles that remain in question, we'll post it here. I think maybe our next DVD book needs to have a special chapter called "Zatoichi Kicks Ass".

Below you'll find a list of all the Zatoichi films. The titles with links are already on DVD, and the links will take you to our reviews. The titles in white are not yet available on DVD. Most of them are coming soon, so release information is listed if known.

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman on DVD

1 - The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)
2 - The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962)
3 - New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)
4 - The Fugitive (1963)
5 - On the Road (1963)
6 - Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)
7 - Zatoichi's Flashing Sword (1964)
8 - Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)
9 - Adventures of Zatoichi (1964)
10 - Zatoichi's Revenge (1965)
11 - Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965)
12 - Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965)
13 - Zatoichi's Vengeance (1966)
14 - Zatoichi's Pilgrimage (1966) - Miramax or The Weinstein Company owns the U.S. DVD rights
15 - Zatoichi's Cane Sword (1967)
16 - Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967)
17 - Zatoichi Challenged (1967) added 6/13
18 - Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968) added 6/13
19 - Samaritan Zatoichi (1968) added 6/13
20 - Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)
21 - Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire (1970)
22 - Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman (1971) - Review Coming Soon
23 - Zatoichi at Large (1972)
24 - Zatoichi in Desperation (1972) - Review Coming Soon
25 - Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973) - Review Coming Soon
26 - Zatoichi (1989) - Review Coming Soon

Z1 - Zatoichi Monogatari (1974-1979) - Japanese TV series - 4 seasons/100 hour-long episodes (currently being released on DVD in the U.S. as Zatoichi: The TV Series by Media Blasters - see links to our reviews of the individual volumes below)

Season One (1974 - 26 episodes):

Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume One
Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume Two
Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume Three
Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume Four (due on 6/13)
Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume Five (due on 8/29)
Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume Six (release date TBA)

Season Two (1976 - 29 episodes):


Season Three (1978 - 19 episodes):


Season Four (1979 - 26 episodes):


Z2 - The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) - remake by Beat Takashi
Z3 - The World of Zatoichi (2003) - hour-long Japanese TV documentary - R1 status unknown
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