Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (25 Zatoichi films from 1962 to 1973) 18 x DVD, 9 x Blu-Ray Criterion Collection
It's easy to imagine Zatoichi, the mega-popular blind masseur/swordsman, as a man on a continual personality-altering pilgrimage, since in a series of films stretching from 1962 until 1979, he was almost exclusively played by one actor. Shintaro Katsu's Zatoichi is a lover, athlete, drinker, gambler and killer. Moreover, in 1967, after fifteen films, Katsu started his own company, Katsu Productions, to make his own star vehicles.

Twenty-five of the 26 entries of the film's official series are collected in the Criterion Collection's lavish new box set (only "Shintaro Katsu's Zatoichi," the second film Zatoichi film Katsu directed, is missing).

The set comprises 25 feature films. They've been known under various titles through the years:

The Tale of Zatoichi / The Tale of Zatoichi Continues / New Tale of Zatoichi / Zatoichi the Fugitive / Zatoichi on the Road / Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold / Zatoichi's Flashing Sword / Fight, Zatoichi, Fight / Adventures of Zatoichi / Zatoichi's Revenge / Zatoichi and the Doomed Man / Zatoichi and the Chess Expert / Zatoichi's Vengeance / Zatoichi's Pilgrimage / Zatoichi's Cane Sword / Zatoichi the Outlaw / Zatoichi Challenged / Zatoichi and the Fugitives / Samaritan Zatoichi / Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo / Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival / Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman / Zatoichi at Large / Zatoichi in Desperation / Zatoichi’s Conspiracy


The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

An impoverished blind masseur becomes a mercenary swordsman, to gain basic respect. The first of novelist Kan Shimozawa's Zatoichi series: 26 films, a TV series and a play, all but two starring controversial singer/producer/director Shintaro Katsu. First of six Zatoichi films directed by Kenji Misumi. The shrewd Zatoichi targets a yakuza-controlled village, because war with a neighboring town's smaller gang is brewing. The broke ex-masseur "Ichi" immediately wins big, by taking advantage of local bakuto's cheating, after they scoff at his asking to join a dice game. The larger horde, who have been given carte blanche by the local governor, summoned Zatoichi. Zatoichi hates the fact that he's become an outlaw, so he strikes up a friendship with the other gang's honorable hired samurai, who has TB.

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962)

Blind swordsman/masseur Zatoichi is pursued by the retainers of a lord who fear that he will reveal a secret weakness of their master. Returning to the village where a year before he had killed Hirate, a much-admired opponent, Zatoichi encounters another swordsman and former rival in love: his own brother. He must face in combat not only the pursuing retainers but his own flesh-and-blood.

New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)

Blind masseur and master swordsman, Zatoichi, is tired of killing. He journeys to his old village looking for peace, but is pursued by the brother of Boss Kanbei, a man he's killed. Back home, Ichi connects with Banno, his teacher, who seeks prestige and has arranged for his younger sister, Yayoi, to marry into a wealthy samurai family. Ichi and Yayoi realize they are in love, but Ichi's request for her hand meets with Banno's derision. Ichi is also drawn into Banno's plot to kidnap the son of a wealthy man, ostensibly to aid the Mito Goblins, a gang of thieves on the run; but Banno wants to keep the ransom. Ichi wants harmony and love, but can he escape a destiny of violence?

Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963)

Blind swordsman/masseur Ichi (known as Zatoichi, or "Masseur Ichi") angers a local yakuza gang when he defeats several of them in a wrestling match. When he finds that his long lost love Tane is nearby and romantically involved with a tough samurai in the employ of the gang, he remains in the village. Meanwhile, the young heir to the leadership is forced to confront his own fear and weakness when the gang insists he fight Ichi.

Zatoichi on the Road (1963)

The itinerant Zatoichi comes across a dying man, who begs the masseur to escort a young woman back to her family in Edo. The honorable swordsman agrees, but in so doing, he catapults himself between two warring yakuza clans, each with its own interest in kidnapping the girl.

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)

After arriving in a small village, Zatoichi finds himself accused of stealing the citizens’ hefty tax payments. To clear his name, he must face off against a corrupt official, a succession of hired blades, and a bullwhip-wielding titan.

Zatoichi's Flashing Sword (1964)

Blind masseur Zatoichi is nursed back to health by a young woman after he is shot by a gang member. Zatoichi, who had come to the village to repay a debt, now feels further indebted. He commits himself to use his amazing sword skills to help the young woman's father, whose river-crossing service is under attack by the same gang responsible for Zatoichi's wounds.

Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)

While on the road, Zatoichi befriends a young mother right before she is savagely murdered. Promising her that he will hand over her baby to its father, the blind masseur embarks on an adventure both sentimental and beset by perilous action.

Adventures of Zatoichi (1964)

The blind swordsman wanders into a town to celebrate the New Year. There, he befriends a young woman whose father has gone missing; as he tries to help her find him, he becomes entangled in a web of corruption and a series of tragic twists of fate.

Zatoichi's Revenge (1965)

Itinerant masseur and master swordsman, the blind Zatoichi, is near the village of his teacher, Hikonoichi, so he decides to visit. He learns of Hikonoichi's recent robbery and murder and the imprisonment of his virginal daughter, Osayo, in a brothel. Through friendship with Denroku, a local dice thrower and devoted father, Ichi uncovers an unholy alliance between the governor and the area strongman: among their scams is falsifying tax records to put farmers in debt, then forcing their daughters into prostitution at the boss's brothel. With help from Denroku's daughter, Otsuru, Ichi comforts Osayo until he can provoke showdowns with the villains and their henchmen.

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965)

An elderly prisoner accused of murder begs Zatoichi to find evidence of his innocence. The blind swordsman, for the first time, chooses not to help, but fate has other plans for him.

Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965)

Kenji Misumi, who directed the first installment of the Zatoichi series, returns with this tale in which the blind swordsman once again finds himself the protector of a child: a little girl pursued by both devious family members and bloodthirsty ruffians.

Zatoichi's Vengeance (1966)

Zatoichi comes upon a dying man who asks him to give a bag of money to "Taichi". Zatoichi has no idea who this is but when he comes upon a small town harassed by gangsters, he finds that "Taichi" was the man's young son. Along his travels he also met a blind monk who makes Zatoichi question his murderous lifestyle. In trying to help the town, Zatoichi kills some gangsters and becomes a hero to the boy. He must make a choice of whether to use non-violence and set a good example, or violence and set the boy on the wrong path in life.

Zatoichi's Pilgrimage (1966)

Troubled by his violent past, Zatoichi begins a journey to a series of shrines for a dose of cleansing spirituality. But as always, trouble isn’t far behind, and the blind swordsman soon finds himself defending a widow from the self-interest of ruthless thugs and despicable townsfolk.

Zatoichi's Cane Sword (1967)

Wearying of his wandering lifestyle, Zatoichi yearns to settle down; unfortunately, when he does so it’s in a town overrun by yakuza. He has an eye-opening encounter with the town’s blacksmith, who reveals himself to be the apprentice of the man who forged Zatoichi’s legendary cane sword.

Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967)

When a local gambling house kidnaps some peasants because they failed to pay their debts, a rival gambling house pays their debts and sets them free. But it's really all just a plot to enlist Ichi's aid in eliminating the competition. Once that's been attended to, the master of the surviving house of chance grabs more and more power - and more cash from the hapless farmers. Even a blind man can see that justice must be done!

Zatoichi Challenged (1967)

A dying woman begs Zatoichi to reunite her son with the father he has never met, but when the blind masseur searches for the man, he discovers that he has been forced by a local yakuza boss to pay off his gambling debts in an unusual way: by painting illegal erotica.

Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968)

The wandering swordsman finds himself in a small village that serves as hideout for a band of fugitives who control the town officials and enforce brutal slave labor in the local silk mill.

Samaritan Zatoichi (1968)

Zatoichi is forced to kill a young man who owes a debt to a yakuza boss. Moments later, his sister Osode arrives with the money she earned (prostituting herself) to pay his debts. The bosses true motives are revealed and he attempts to steal Osode even though the debt is paid. Zatoichi realizes his grievous error and protects the girl from the gang. Osode and Zatoichi are caught in a dilemma as she must rely on her brother's killer for protection and Zatoichi wrestles with the injustice he has caused.

Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)

Zatoichi treks to a village that has always been a favorite spot of his, only to discover that it’s become a living hell, plagued by feuding father and son yakuza as well as the younger crime boss’s bodyguard—Toshiro Mifune’s scruffy, smart-mouthed, cash-hungry Yojimbo of legend.

Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970)

Cowritten by star Shintaro Katsu, this adventure pits Zatoichi against one of his most diabolical foes: a blind yakuza boss whose reign of terror and exploitation has made him nearly mythic.

Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (1971)

While traveling the Japanese countryside the blind masseur Zatoichi comes across the One Armed Swordsman, Wang Kang, who is in hiding and protecting a child from a corrupt Japanese priest and a group of yakuza. Zatoichi and Wang Kang, each from very different worlds yet heroic swordsman in their own right, at first seem to get along but a language barrier and a series of misunderstanding leads Kang to distrust Ichi. Soon the two heroes are at each other throats while each attempts to stop the true villains from taking the child.

Zatoichi at Large (1972)

Zatoichi comes across a pregnant woman dying from sword wounds and helps deliver her baby. Her final request to him: take the boy to see his father.

Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

Star Shintaro Katsu sits in the director’s chair for this psychedelic and unremittingly bleak entry in the Zatoichi series, which is unlike any other in its grind-house grimness.

Zatoichi’s Conspiracy (1973)

Zatoichi, the famed blind swordsman, returns to his home village for the first time in many years. He is befriended by Omiyo, who had the same wet-nurse as Zatoichi. He also encounters a boyhood friend, Shinbei, who now is wealthy and appears not to remember Zatoichi. Shinbei seems to be interested in repaying the villagers' debts, but is in reality manipulating the ownership of a now-valuable rock quarry. Zatoichi learns of the subterfuge and confronts his old friend, who has a score of yakuza swordsmen backing his play.

Extras:
• The Blind Swordsman, a 1978 documentary about Zatoichi portrayer and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, along with a new interview with its director, John Nathan (57:37)
• Serialized Success (27:13) - new interview with Asian-film critic Tony Rayns
• Trailers for all twenty-five films

9 x Blu-Ray | 1080p AVC | 2198 minutes | 388 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English

Download Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (25 Zatoichi films from 1962 to 1973) 9 x Blu-Ray Criterion Collection:

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18 x DVD | NTSC 16:9 | 2198 minutes | 108 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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