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Blind Swordsman Zatoichi, The (BluRay) 
Written by: on August 26th, 2010

Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 2003
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Ittoku Kishibe, Yuko Daike, Guadalcanal Taka, Akira Emoto, Tadanobu Asano, Yui Natsukawa, Saburo Ishikura, Michiyo Ogusu, Daigoro Tachibana

BluRay released: September 15th, 2009
Approximate running time: 116 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Rating: R
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital Stereo Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
BluRay Release: Miramax
Region Coding: Region 0
Retail Price: $20.00

Takeshi Kitano had a huge shadow that lurked over his shoulder in his preparation for the role of Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. Shintarô Katsu had originated the role of Zatoichi nearly forty years earlier starring in twenty six films and upwards of one hundred TV episodes as the Blind Swordsman Zatoichi.

Synopsis: Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano) is a blind swordsman who lives off the land. He sometimes works a masseur to help pay for his gambling habit. Zatoichi arrives in a remote village that is at the mercy of two rival gangs. Along the way he meets two geishas who use their beauty to trap and kill those who murdered of their parents. Ginzo hires Hattori (Tadanobu Asano) a samurai for hire to take care of his rival gang. Zatoichi soon crosses Ginzo which leads to a bloody showdown between Zatoichi and Hattori.

Takeshi Kitano breathes new life into the Zatoichi saga. The eyes are the gateway to ones soul and since Zatoichi is blind his character is defined through his facial expressions and movements. Kitano for the most part is subdued through out the film and as the film progresses he captures the essence of the character which helps the viewer connect with his interpolation of Zatoichi. Kitano took on many hats for this film and his directing if filled with beautifully composed shots. He also wrote the screenplay and worked as the films editor. It is in these last two categories in which the films shortcomings are painfully obvious. The film at times feels padded as to many subplots and characters are introduced into the mix. The ending although uplifting is unnecessary as the plot has already resolved itself by this point and Zatoichi has already moved on himself. The film strongest attribute is its action scenes which are expertly designed and edited. My favorite moment has to be when a rival clan surround Zatoichi in the pouring rain is by far and away one the most dazzling action scenes that I have seen in a long time. Even though this incarnation of Zatoichi is far from perfect the end product far out weighs any of its flaws.

The BluRay:

The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. This release just like Miramax’s other BluRay release of foreign films barley improves upon their DVD counterparts. Colors, flesh tones and black levels fare well. Even though the image looks generally sharp. DNR has been applied as the image looks smoothed out and virtually devoid of any grain. At best this transfer looks good, do expected to be wowed.

This release comes with three audio options, a DTS-HD 5.1 mix in English, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in Japanese and a Dolby Digital Stereo mix in Spanish. All three audio mixes sound clean throughout. The strongest sounding mix is the DTS-HD 5.1 English audio mix which sound robust, balanced and crystal clear throughout. Unfortunately the film’s original Japanese language track is not offered up as an uncompressed audio option, like the English dubbed mix. Quality wise the Digital 5.1 Japanese does sound very good as dialog is always clear and this audio mix does a great job with the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack. Two subtitle options have been provided for this release, English and Spanish.

Extras for this release include a ‘Behind the Scenes’ featurette (39 minutes 57 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Japanese and English with English subtitles) that is not much more than your standard PR promo and interviews with cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima (4 minutes 28 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Japanese with English subtitles), production designer  Norihiro Isoda (5 minutes 41 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Japanese with English subtitles), costume supervisor Kazuko Kurosawa (7 minutes – 4:3 full frame, in Japanese with English subtitles) and master swordsman Tatsumi Nikamoto (4 minutes 26 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Japanese with English subtitles). The interviews give a well rounded look inside the production side of this film. Also included with this release are previews for other film’s also available from Miramax. Overall despite the short comings of this release, the more than affordable price helps soften the blow until a better release comes along.

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