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Zatoichi: The Tale of Zatoichi

Though action cinema abounds with show-offs as good at one liners as they are at busting heads, it's the character who takes us by surprise with their hidden skills that often gets the highest "whoa" points. By remaining cool until the last conceivable moment, it shows that they are studying the situation so they have to do the least amount of work possible until they lay foot to ass (think James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven). The first clue to the hidden depth of badassery in the blind masseur turned swordsman Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) comes when he plays a game of dice. The men he's playing with look to take advantage of his lack of sight, but it is Zatoichi who uses their greed to trick them out of all of their money. And when the men question his deception, Zatoichi reminds them they were trying to steal from a blind man — and from this moment on, one can't wait to see how much hurt he can cause with a sword. Zatoichi became a popular character in Japanese culture with the release of this 1962 film that inspired over 25 sequels, TV shows, comics, and novels. He is simply one of the great archetypes: the scrappy underdog who uses his smarts to fool his adversaries, but also the greatest samurai (and here he gets the girl to boot). Directed by Kenji Misumi, Zatoichi Monogatari, or The Tale of Zatoichi, lays the groundwork for the character as Zatoichi — like another other famous samurai, Yojimbo — comes between two towns opposed for control. Siding with Iioka, he finds that the town's master wants him to fight Sasagawa's samurai Hirate (Shigeru Amachi). But Ichi (as he is called) is his own master, and goes about things his own way, even spending a day fishing with the consumption-riddled Hirate. But when Iioka learns of Hirate's sickness, they plan to use that to their advantage to slaughter Sasagawa, while Sasagawa's people threaten to use a gun against the blind swordsman, drawing both Hirate and Ichi into battle. Of course it's all leading to a big sword-fight, and in that the film does not disappoint (and even proves to be touching), making it no surprise that this is considered one of the classics of Samurai cinema. Home Vision Entertainment's DVD presents the film in non-anamorphic widescreen (2:35:1) in a tarnished but fairly good transfer, and in the original Japanese mono, with optional subtitles. Extras are limited to stills. Keep-case.

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