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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Zatoichi 15: Zatoichi's Cane Sword (Zatoichi tekka tabi) (1967)

"This fella and I've been traveling together for a long time now. But I had no idea it was on its last legs."
- Zatoichi (Shitaro Katsu)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: May 27, 2004

Stars: Shintaro Katsu, Shiho Fujimura, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Makoto Fujita, Kiyoko Suizenji, Eijiro Tono
Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, some language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:43s
Release Date: May 18, 2004
UPC: 037429193327
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-C C+

DVD Review

Zatoichi can gamble, and win. He can give a mean massage. Aside from his cane sword, he is crafty with his other weapons of necessity, most notably his four remaining senses and even his pipe, with which he can disarm a skilled knife wielder. He can even give a spirited duck dance for a room of powerful patrons, all the while drinking sake with the best of them. Likewise, this chapter in the life of the blind swordsman takes us on a journey of emotional highs and lows, and side-splitting comedy. This is what Zatoichi is all about.

This time around, our beloved Ichi (Shintaro Katsu) is greeted by a bad omen: thinking he is slashing at an attacker, he slices a crow. Indeed, all is not well in Zatoichi's realm. After reaching town via a traveling acting troupe, Ichi cleans house in a local gambling establishment, and fends off some angry yakuza. Later, he meets with a skilled blacksmith (the Kurosawa/Ozu vet, Eijiro Tono), whose master forged Ichi's legendary cane sword. He has bad news: the blade is cracked near the base, and with its next blow, it will snap, rendering it useless. Zatoichi is disconcerted, but takes this as a sign to get back on the straight and narrow, and take up massaging full time. He finds employment at a local inn to do just that, but Zatoichi's plans are quickly rendered moot.

The inn is run by Shizu, daughter of a deceased boss whose sole objective is to restore her father's power through her brother, who is reluctant to follow in his footsteps. Instead, he wants to lead a more scholarly life, and leave the world of crime and gambling behind. Shizu understands this, but her promise to her father stands. When the local inspector rents out the inn and causes mayhem, Ichi stands by, not wanting to get involved. The inspector realizes who Shizu is, and begins to make a violent power play of his own. When the blacksmith reveals his true connections to this situation, Ichi can no longer stand by. However, with only one blow left and dozens to kill, who will he strike, and how can he survive?

This is one of the best Zatoichi films, hands down. It contains everything there is to love about these films: spouts of bloodless action, memorable characters; Katsu's bravura, expressive nature; some great slapstick gags and breathtaking visuals. During most of the film, Ichi is trying to avoid conflict, making this one of the most tension-filled entries without having to resort to gratuitous violence. This time, Zatoichi's reputation precedes him, and the once fierce gangsters who openly looked down on the blind man are practically kissing his feet. Ichi knows how to use the gamblers' greed against them, for he, too, is a member of the underworld he openly cautions others against. He is noble and honorable, but has a clear sense of self-preservation that gives his character a certain realism (if that's possible in this over-the-top genre).

Kimiyoshi Yasuda's direction is sure, as is Senkichiro Takeda's expressive cinematography. This chapter was shot with great care, not resorting to the extreme zooms and cheesy camera moves that tend to frequent these films (not that they aren't fun!). Instead, composition and camera movement are precise and skilled, as is the lighting, culminating in the final sequence, which contrasts the amber glow of a tatami room to the silvery black of a nighttime snowstorm. A great ride.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Home Vision's transfer is another home run. The anamorphic 2.35:1 image is virtually free of grain and print defects, and shows good detail. Colors are again somewhat muted, as are blacks, which tend to look more gray. Still, this is beautiful work.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sound suffers. The monaural track contains clear dialogue and reproduces Ichiro Saito's great score nicely, but contains quite a bit of hiss, pops and crackles at higher volumes. This is not distracting by any means, but noticeable.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Zatoichi 13: Zatoichi's Vengeance, Zatoichi 17: Zatoichi Challenged, Zatoichi series trailer
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Reprint of the film's original poster
  2. Liner notes by Michael Jeck
Extras Review: The disc contains theatrical trailers for the other Ichi films listed above, including a series trailer produced by Home Vision, hidden in the studio's logo on the trailer page. The keepcase contains two fine additions: a set of informative liner notes by Michael Jeck, and, my favorite bonus—one that is not listed on the keepcase: a reproduction of the film's original poster.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Certainly one of the finest, if not the most satisfying Zatoichi film of the series. This one has it all. 'Nuff said.


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