Here is the first of two further Zatoichi posts which concern the DVD extras available on the films I have watched. The posts will cover the film releases in reverse order – and this post will cover the films from 2010 to 1989. I hope to put up the second post at the same time next week (however, a technical issue with my multi-region DVD player may delay that).
I felt these posts were necessary to include, as many of the extras for several of the Zatoichi films help to signify the historical significance of these films, beyond their number and my own personal appreciation of them. So, let’s begin…
Blind Fury (dir. Philip Noyce, 1989) – DVD: Sony Home Entertainment
Image Copyright: Sony Home Entertainment
Nothing at all is available on any of the DVDs that I have found for this film – not even any trailers. Some of the menu artwork does allude to the various posters and promotional artwork that was used when the film was released theatrically, but a lot more can now be found within an online image search. It’s a bit of a shame – as I would have most liked to have seen an interview with the screenwriter, and his views on this film as well as the other Zatoichi films.
Zatoichi: The Last (dir. Junji Sakamoto, 2010) – DVD: Toho Studios
Image Copyright: Toho Studios
Despite the quality of the film, and the lack of extras overall, there are some interesting trailers on this DVD. The majority of the promotional material is very similar, in that it focuses on the music and the action sequences on the film. This is perhaps to be expected, as is the impression that the film has more action than it actually does because of the trailers’ contents. They also made me realise that I had not perhaps mentioned the music as much as I should have in the review. However, while it is stylistically unique, it does not make up for the negative aspects of this film.
Nonetheless, one intriguing trailer was an advert for the film linked to a mobile phone warning for Japanese cinemas. The trailer specifically used a scene from The Last where Ichi plugs up his ears with cloth so he can concentrate on his work while the fishermen’s wives natter. This is perhaps not so strange for UK audiences, where these tie-ins are starting to be more common in cinema adverts. Still, it is interesting to see that there are some similarities in cinema exhibition between countries around the world.
Ichi (dir. Fumihiko Sori, 2008) – DVD: Manga Entertainment (Region 2)
Image Copyright: Manga Entertainment
Another DVD that has no extras at all – which is surprising as it was also released on Blu-Ray (in other countries, and not just the UK). The closest you get to a trailer is some scene excerpts within the main menu screen. However, it also includes excerpts from the dire J-pop ballad that plays as the film’s credits roll (which is one of several clichés the film could have done without).
Zatoichi (dir. Takeshi Kitano, 2003) – DVD: Artificial Eye (Region 2)
Image Copyright: Artificial Eye
By 2003, Kitano was one of the biggest names in Japanese cinema around the world. The extras on the DVD releases for Zatoichi make this clear through their content, as well as the fact there are so many extras included.
The trailer on the Region 2 version makes viewers aware that this was one of the few Japanese films to see a UK cinema release within the last decade. Many now end up straight on DVD or Blu-Ray. This again makes viewers realise how much of a draw Kitano was as an actor and a director in world cinema in 2003.
Kitano’s status is further emphasised by the inclusion of a filmography for him (up until Zatoichi), as well as some stills from the film and its production (which mostly focus on Kitano directing). Tadanobu Asano (who plays the ronin in the film) also gets a filmography, as he was a globally recognised Japanese actor at the time. This has only increased since Zatoichi, as he has starred in popular films such as Mongol and both of Marvel’s Thor movies.
If you had never heard of Kitano before this film, though, the making-of would make it clear how popular he was in Japan at this time. None of his other films are mentioned, but the inclusion of press conferences and premiere footage from before and after the film’s production make it clear how much of a celebrity the actor and director is in Japan and other countries. Newcomers to the character of Zatoichi are also told how much of a contrast Kitano’s incarnation is compared to Shintaro Katsu’s, as well as how a former friend of Katsu’s persuaded Kitano to make a new film. Kitano also fully embraced the role, as in between the shooting of scenes he is shown practicing sword fighting with his eyes closed. Asano is seen practicing too, but the most exciting rehearsals have to be for the tap-dancing finale at the end.
Things do not end with the film’s production. The film’s screening at the Venice Film Festival (and its award of the second-place prize) are documented briefly. Kitano also greets the crowd outside the screening venues by posing for photographs and then giving autographs. The last piece of footage then documents the critical and commercial success that the film received in Japan (which is rare for a Kitano film). All in all, not only is the significance of Kitano’s Zatoichi made clear by this making of, but Kitano’s position within the Japanese and global film industry as well.
There is another DVD release available for Region 2, which also reveals what extras are available in other country’s special editions. The Artificial Eye Special Edition includes an extra disc that contains interviews with the film’s producer, dance choreographer, fight choreographer, and many other crew members (including the costume supervisor, Kazuko Kurosawa – the daughter of Akira Kurosawa). A Q&A session with Kitano (filmed in Paris) is also included. In the package itself, there are postcards containing artwork and stills from the films, and a booklet on Kitano’s thoughts on the film and its production. A real gem for DVD collectors!
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (dir. Shintaro Katsu, 1989) – DVD: Arrow Video (Region 2)
Image Copyright: Arrow Video
The only detailed extras I could find for this film are on the UK Region 2 release. However, even these are minor in comparison to the 2003 film (as well as the Criterion box-set, which will be covered in my next post).
Arrow had released the 1989 film before in May 2007, with very little treatment given to the disc or package. However, it was re-released in 2012 as part of the ArrowDrome sub-label. Now, the film is part of the label’s ‘samurai’ category, with its own turquoise-themed artwork. This label has become one of the most distinctive in recent years in the UK, as it re-releases many films from the 1970s and ‘80s that have ‘cult’ status. The DVD extras make this clear, as they include trailers for other ArrowDrome releases (such as the famous Japanese thriller, Battle Royale), as well as for the Arrow Video label itself (which details how Arrow provides as many extras as possible for its releases).
Being one of the few Zatoichi films released on Region 2, Arrow have included a helpful summary of the series, the 1989 film, and Katsu himself in the package for this film. A booklet is included in the case, and the article ‘Greying But Still Vital’ by Tom Mes is printed within it (Mes is co-author of a great book: The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film). Here, Mes expertly places the 1989 film within the context of the franchise and Katsu’s celebrity status in Japan, meaning that viewers can link this film to Japanese film history and the other incarnations of the character.
Arrow’s minimal treatment of this film in comparison to some other Japanese films (such as Battle Royale) mean that it will probably not release any of the other Zatoichi films anytime soon (if at all). However, this is a unique package for Region 2 viewers, as are many of its other titles.
In my next post, I will explore the extra features and packaging that is unique for Region 1/multi-region viewers. Why? Well, there are so many elements included in the Criterion box-set, that it really does need its own space. Also, without this release, my Zatoichi marathon would have been 25 films short…