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Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray + DVD]

Shintaro Katsu    Unrated   Blu-ray
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray + DVD] + Ran [Blu-ray]
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Product Description

Special Features

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New digital restorations of all twenty-five films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays • The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Zatoichi portrayer and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, along with a new interview with its director, John Nathan • New interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns • Trailers for all twenty-five films • New English subtitle translations • PLUS: A book featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, synopses of the films by critic, novelist, and musician Chris D., “The Tale of Zatoichi,” the original short story by Kan Shimozawa, and twenty-five new illustrations inspired by the films, by twenty-five different artists

Product Description

The colossally popular Zatoichi films make up the longest-running action series in Japanese history and created one of the screen’s great heroes: an itinerant blind masseur who also happens to be a lightning-fast swordsman. As this iconic figure, the charismatic and earthy Shintaro Katsu became an instant superstar, lending a larger-than-life presence to the thrilling adventures of a man who lives staunchly by a code of honor and delivers justice in every town and village he enters. The films that feature him are variously pulse-pounding, hilarious, stirring, and completely off-the-wall. This deluxe set features the string of twenty-five Zatoichi films made between 1962 and 1973, collected in one package for the first time. SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New digital restorations of all twenty-five films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays • The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Zatoichi portrayer and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, along with a new interview with its director, John Nathan • New interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns • Trailers for all twenty-five films • New English subtitle translations • PLUS: A book featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, synopses of the films by critic, novelist, and musician Chris D., “The Tale of Zatoichi,” the original short story by Kan Shimozawa, and twenty-five new illustrations inspired by the films, by twenty-five different artists

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Bluray release Jan. 2 2014
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My favorite purchase this year, the box design is beautiful and having all 25 films(in both dvd and bluray format) from 1962-1974(The final Zatoichi film with Katsu Shintaro from 1989 is not included) is indispensable. Not a lot of extras although an hour long documentary on the Katsu during the time he was making the TV series is very revealing.

The one detail I must comment on is how this release fixes a problem from the previous HVE DVD release of the first film "The Tale of Zatoichi". That release, despite being widescreen, had images where important visual details seemed cut off around the edges, in particular the duel on the bridge near the end where in some shots the characters heads were cut off at the top of the frame, and I've read some comments on boards criticizing the filmmakers for this. But here we see that the HMV release, for some reason, actually cropped the entire frame, losing about 5-10% of the image along all four sides and since it was filmed with very tight shots close to the edge any loss of image would have a noticeable effect. Anyway that has been corrected here and it is a relief to finally watch the original properly, that alone made with release worthwhile to me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the BEST! Jan. 22 2014
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Love the series! The sound and image quality are awesome! I Would love to find the TV series w/ the same quality.
I strongly recommend this series, and for those who are on the fence, or have never seen any of it, to give a chance.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One cannot go wrong with Zatoichi Jan. 2 2014
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Shintaro Katsu makes the Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman worth watching. The 25 movies in this series are truly worth watching at least once. I have seen them many times and still enjoy them. These restored films on DVD and Blu-Ray due justice to the series. Added to these films is a small booklet which gives a synopsis of each film in the series. If You have a love of Japanese films You need these films to add to Your collection.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Feb. 7 2014
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Beautifully packaged, labour of love box set of Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman episodes. Makes me wish I had all the free time in the world!
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  82 reviews
82 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collection, in hand and reviewed Nov. 26 2013
By Stephen M. Lerch - Published on Amazon.com
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Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman is an iconic, well loved and well known collection of films (and a TV series in Japan). The character was portrayed in 26 films (27 if you count the failed reboot in early 2000s), and this Criterion Collection... collection, collects 25 of the 26 films in one box.

Criterion has either restored, or received restored film elements for this release, and anyone that has seen the original DVD run, either the Animeigo films or the Home Vision releases, you are in for one of the greatest Zatoichi treats possible. The video quality, even comparing DVD to DVD, between the releases you can't help but see better detail and a higher quality encode over all with the Criterion Collection version.

If you are a Zatoichi fan, you owe it to yourself to own this set, even if you don't (like me) agree with having to spend more money for something you won't really use (the DVDs). The box is beautiful. The hardcover book included is great. The disc packaging is beautiful, though I'm not sure I love the cardboard sleeve concept. Then the box that houses it all really pulls it all together.

Highly recommended.

For those wanting a longer review of the quality of the release:

Video:

Every film has been remastered (there are 3 listed processes, I assume given different film stocks being used change the way they are handled). Frame by frame. Dust, dirt and scratches were repaired, removed or minimized if it meant losing quality.

Each Blu Ray contains 3 films (8 discs total), with the exception of the final disc which contains one film (Conspiracy) and the extra supplements.

Each film is AVC encoded and bit rates are between 20-30 for the most part. There is absolutely nothing to complain about in regards to the transfer to Blu Ray.

I have not seen any issues with any of the colors, or black levels. I've watched roughly 7 of the films as of this review and peeked at the supplements on disc 25. If I run into any issues in the next bunch of discs, I will report it here. I don't anticipate any, given this is a Criterion edition, but it can happen.

I only spot checked the DVDs, but they use the remastered video and bitrates are good, with no compression issues.

Audio:

So, the Zatoichi films were all recorded in mono sound, and each track here is beautifully restored/remastered from the original film elements. Each is encoded, or rather, not really encoded but put on the disc uncompressed in LPCM.

During my viewing, I heard absolutely no audio issues/concerns. Will update this review if this changes.

I did not check the audio encoding the DVD release.

Packaging:

This is one of the biggest stars of this release.

The plastic wrapper on the set includes the back panel information you expect, but the front uses the Zatoichi brown toned image seen on the Amazon listing on the back. This means that if you pull the wrap off completely, the artwork on the box is completely unmolested. It also means, if you throw away the wrap, you will lose one of the best image, in my opinion, on this set. I slipped the wrap off, looked at the box and put the wrap back on. I'm a nut.

The artwork looks fantastic, if not a bit more pastel than I would maybe like. Even still, it looks great and the box itself is quite sturdy.

The hardback book retains the pastel color scheme on the cover, the interior being black and white text, with an image, in color and illustrated by various artists depicting the film being described, on the opposite side of the film descriptions.

The only thing I don't like, and it's not because it's ugly, it's actually quite beautiful on the outside, is the actual packaging used to house the discs. It's hard to explain how they laid this out, but I'll try. When you open the book style package, all quality-ish cardboard, the right "page" is a cardboard page with a pouch for the Blu Ray. I don't like my discs in cardboard pouches for fear of scratches, especially when the set is $200 MSRP. The other odd thing is the DVDs. The left "page" flips out horizontally, with 2 DVDs are needed for each film set in their own "page" and pouch.

Extras:

The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Zatoichi portrayer and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, along with a new interview with its director, John Nathan

New interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns

Trailers for all twenty-five films

The Blind Swordsman documentary alone almost makes the price tag worth it in this set. Yeah, I'm over-exagerating, but it's a powerful documentary that really shows the greatness of the character, but more importantly to me, Shintaro Katsu. Worth watching, no question.

Overall:

This set sweats awesome. Everything about it, with the packaging concerns I have disregarded, is of the highest quality and caliber. I wish I didn't have to buy the DVDs and could have saved a few bucks, but honestly, about $8 a film, less than a visit to the cinema, is MORE than worth it for this set in my eyes. For someone who has never seen a Zatoichi film, it will be a very hard sell, but if you have seen an enjoyed any Zatoichi film in the past that is included in this set, you will most likely appreciate this set.

VERY Highly recommended.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best Boxed Sets Ever! Dec 13 2013
By PoochJD - Published on Amazon.com
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I'll keep this short-and-sweet. This set is one of the most beautiful, thoughtfully-designed, and well-made Blu-Ray/DVD Collector's Set packages I've ever had the luxury of owning. It's a gem. Yes, the discs are all held in cardboard sleeves, but the playing-side of the discs is against a clear, smooth piece of thin plastic, so providing you tease the discs out carefully and don't mistreat the packaging, your discs should remain shiny and spotless for years to come. These are not the same kind of useless cardboard sleeves other manufacturers have used. All of my discs arrived in spotless condition, and I have no doubt they will remain that way, thanks to Criterion's very well thought-out packaging.

This really is a delightful and lovely set, that will take pride of place in any Blu-Ray or DVD collection. Just remember that this set is Region-Locked, so all the DVD's are Region 1, and all of the Blu-Ray's are Region A. Other than that, the films look great, and Criterion have really pushed the boat out on this set. One of the best releases of any set of films from anywhere in the world I've ever seen.

You owe it to yourself to get this collection now!
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ZATOICHI AND SHINTARO KATSU - "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" Yeats Dec 21 2013
By Daniel B. - Published on Amazon.com
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I have only one nagging question about this Criterion release: Why package DVDs on the left of each page and then a BLU-RAY of the same three movies on the right?! Why does anyone need DVDs who has the BLU-RAY? And if our budgets are stretched by the added cost of a BLU-RAY, why can't we just buy the cheaper DVD? Why both?! I just would like to know the rationale behind what seems insane packaging to me. Thank you for allowing me to gush . . . NOW! to my review! When I learned that Criterion was issuing all of the Zatoichi films, I was overjoyed and exhilarated, but then to have wait for three months for the release was a bummer. But the long wait is over and the enjoyment begins. I have been watching the films in the order of release because I want to see how Shintaro Katsu handles the character of Ichi as he progresses through life and, in fact, ages. In those earliest films he looks so young, but I am amazed that this charismatic, versatile actor had already found Ichi's character in those first ventures. It was in film clubs in the early 1980s (before videocassettes and DVDs) that I first met Ichi and fell in love with the character and his stories. There was palpable delight in those small venues as we enjoyed his antics, sentimental attachments and, of course, lightning sword-play. ZATOICHI is formula film-making: the plots are mirror-images of each other, the villains are one-dimensional, often the sentimentality becomes cloying -- but I was not bothered by these issues when I was seeing, at best, two Zatoichi films per month, and - happy surprise! - I'm not bothered now when I sometimes watch one each day. I feel the production values are so superior that I get pulled into each episode with the wonderful details of each setting, the fine acting of guest stars and, of course, the wonderful sword-play, as kinetic an experience in cinema as you could hope for. But none of this would matter were it not for Shintaro Katsu: he is a hero who plays his role as if he were an anti-hero, until those final moments when he effortlessly reveals himself to be the Strong Man who defends the helpless against the greedy. I saw a documentary about Shintaro Katsu on PBS many years ago. When it was over, I wished I hadn't seen it, because the man who was Katsu was not Ichi. All of us who identify with a star go through this disillusionment. I prided myself for years that I was never duped by a Hollywood star into confusing the persona with the person. And yet I fell completely under the spell of Katsu-Ichi. That's why I quoted the line from Yeats in my title because all of us confuse fictional characters and real characters. Why is that? I believe the answer lies in our very genuine human need for exceptional human beings who transcend the ordinary world with its compromises, disillusionments and predictability. I just learned that Shintaro Katsu's older brother, who memorably portrayed base villains in two of earliest Zatoichi films, played the Lone Wolf in that six-film series. I saw those films too back in the 1980s, but I found the violence too extreme and bloody, the character merciless and unrelenting and the stories unrelieved by sentiment and humor. And that brings me back to my delight in this issue of two dozen wonderful Zatoichi films. Ichi is one of the noblest, most admirable, friendliest, wittiest, greatest inventions of world cinema. I know those of us who are his fans will always see the dancer and the dance as one.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Criterion strikes again!! Dec 12 2013
By TaxiDrivin' Daddy - Published on Amazon.com
Though a few of the actual films deserve 4 stars, the additional material (& quality of the film transfers) are exceptional!
Katso-san would have been proud of this package. The only negative is how tightly the discs are placed into the sleeves.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Movies, Mediocre Packaging Dec 1 2013
By Adam - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I can't emphasize enough how amazing these movies look compared to Image Entertainments release. The films look beautiful. You can see throughout the series how film evolved. You can see the utilization of new techniques and styles as you go through the movies. There are minor issues mainly in the subtitles. There are some signs in the movies that are not translated. Typos do occur. The translation seems to be 'Westernized'. I know just enough Japanese to know what was said and what the subtitle says do not match in some cases. I have made it to movie #16 and I can't stop watching.

If there is anything to be disappointed about, it would be the packaging. Criterion went through all the trouble to bring these films to us and they turn around and ship them in cardboard sleeves. There is not one disc in the package I received that doesn't show a blemish or minor scratch. The discs slide too deep into the sleeve making it a pain to get out. It took me a while to remove the discs since I didn't want to damage them further or get finger prints all over them. I transferred all the discs into a disc binder that better accommodates them. I can only imagine the damage that might be incurred by constantly removing and inserting the disc back in the cardboard sleeve. The packaging and booklet are amazing visually, but it is not made to hold and preserve your discs. The music and movie industry has made a move to cardboard sleeves which is cheaper and more environmentally friendly, but there has to be a better way of utilizing cardboard sleeves that won't damage the discs.
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