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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Zatoichi 12: Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (Zatoichi jigoku tabi) (1965)

"Sighted people are always trying to take advantage of me and give me grief."
- Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 18, 2004

Stars: Shintaro Katsu, Mikio Narita, Chizuru Hayashi, Kaneko Iwasaki
Other Stars: Gaku Yamamoto, Saburo Date, Taro Marui, Rokko Toura
Director: Kenji Misumi

Manufacturer: Ascent Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, moderate language)
Run Time: 01h:27m:02s
Release Date: May 18, 2004
UPC: 037429193129
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+C- D+

DVD Review

When a film series gets to be twelve entries long, the temptation to become formulaic is overpowering. Yet we see from this entry in the Blind Swordsman series that given sufficient ingenuity it's nonetheless possible to keep the story interesting and lend it some freshness.

Blind masseuse and swordfighter Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) continues to use his skills to scam the scammers when he runs across a chess-playing samurai, Tadamasu Jamon (Mikio Narita), who has the nasty habit of killing any opponent who defeats him at the game. Parallel stories include a young woman, Tane (Kaneko Iwasaki) traveling with a young girl, Miki, who gets injured in one of Zatoichi's fights. Zatoichi takes on the responsibility of getting her the necessary medication for her tetanus, but a series of difficulties beset him. Meanwhile, the servant of a brother and sister (Gaku Yamamoto and Chizuru Hayashi) is mysteriously murdered.

Even though this entry has the necessary gambling and massive fight sequences that its audience demanded, it also manages to have life breathed into it thanks to the script by veteran director Daisuke Ito. The screenplay casts much of the picture as a nontraditional mystery: the viewer is left to piece together the motivation of the chess master to killed the servant and what is the secret goal of the brother and sister. As a counterpoint to these tales that eventually all come together, Zatoichi comes precariously close to engaging in a romance with Tane, pushing her away but simultaneously divulging how he truly feels in an artful sequence. To top it off, one of Zatoichi's scams of the bad guys backfires in a particularly painful way, making him seem human after all.

The battle sequences are the usual bloodless fare, with elaborate choreography that's frequently a bit difficult to follow. The opposition is for the most part a series of ciphers to be sliced and diced, though the attack on Zatoichi in a swamp is notable for his defeating the foes but losing the medicine for Miki; the sequence of him painfully groping for it, mere inches away, is surprisingly moving for such a formula picture. This is certainly a worthwhile entry in the series and a long ways from getting tired out.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is generally quite attractive. In particular, texture is immediately noticeable and gives the video a lifelike appearance throughout. Color tends to be a bit pastel, but seem to be quite natural appearing. On the other hand, there's significant aliasing visible and some periodically annoying edge enhancement that detracts a bit from the otherwise commendable picture.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio is the original Japanese, with removable subtitles. There's significant hiss audible throughout, sometimes reaching quite high levels. The music sounds a bit distorted, especially in the opening theme, which is par for the course with this series.

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)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Zatoichi 11: Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, Zatoichi 13: Zatoichi's Vengeance
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A brief set of production notes are provided by Michael Jeck of the AFI. A couple of trailers for this feature and its immediate predecessor and successor in the series are the only other extras. Chaptering is adequate at best.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

A surprisingly engrossing entry in the long-running series, with an acceptable transfer but little in the way of extras.


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