30 Days of Zatoichi – Charting the Blind Swordsman’s Cinematic Journey…

On May 29th, 2010, Zatoichi The Last – Toho’s most recent Zatoichi film –  was released at Japanese cinemas. Though this was not the most profitable or well-received film in the franchise, interest in one of Japanese cinema’s most enduring characters has been maintained ever since.

This has largely been because of Criterion’s release of the first 25 Zatoichi films in one lavish box-set – which was put on sale in the US last year: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2973-opening-zatoichi-the-blind-swordsman.

The later Zatoichi films – from 1989, 2003, 2008 and 2010 – have also been made available on DVD – as well as one further film that is closely based on the Zatoichi character (which for now I will save as a surprise, for those who do not yet know it).

Earlier this year (2014), I acquired all these Zatoichi films. Following my other teaching and research commitments, I now have the time – from May 29th onwards – to view one of these films a day and report on them on this site for posterity. Also, following my reflections on each film – which will be posted daily on this site – I will also reflect on Criterion’s treatment of the first 25 films, and then the treatment of the other films too.

The Zatoichi films have mostly been covered in some other English publications – such as textbooks on the samurai film genre – but not all have been charted in equal measure. Even the newest publications, such as the contributions to the Criterion set (by Geoffrey O’Brien and Chris D.) only cover the first 25 films. Here, I will attempt to be as comprehensive as possible in charting Ichi’s cinematic influence (as other media may have to be left for another day – and another webpage!)

Though other fictional characters have endured over a longer period of years, and some have even appeared in more films, Zatoichi is one of the those which has fascinated me the most, and likely other film fans too. Not only did Shintaro Katsu play the character from 1962 to 1989 on the cinema screen, but also in a TV series from 1974 to 1979. And though other actors have taken up the mantle since, the character also remains to be popular in short stories and manga.

Now, as an anniversary of the most recent (and hopefully not last) Zatoichi film approaches – and the films from my box-set impatiently await to be watched – I hope you will enjoy accompanying me on this cinematic journey.

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