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Review - Zatoichi: The Television Series

I have a bad habit of not actually watching the DVDs and Blu-rays that I buy. Case in point: I purchased the first season of the Zatoichi television series at a comic book convention years ago (courtesy of Media Blasters, distributors of only the most extreme and obscure content), and I’m just now getting around to popping it in. Because I’m so starved for fresh adventures in the Blind Swordsman saga (having seen all of the feature films, including bootlegs and spinoffs) that I can’t afford to ignore it anymore.

In terms of content, tone, and production value, the show isn’t drastically different from the movies that inspired it. In each episode, our hero wanders into a new town or village, gets swept up in the local drama, befriends an orphan or two, charms all the ladies, swindles greedy gamblers, and effortlessly vanquishes any foe foolish enough to cross swords with him. It’s definitely formulaic, but hey, the formula works, and there are enough subtle variations to keep things from getting too stale.

As always, leading man/producer (and occasional director) Shintaro Katsu plays a huge role in keeping the action grounded; whether he’s mirthfully chuckling at his own expense or noisily slurping noodles mid-battle, his performance humanizes his superhuman character, while his graceful choreography lends the stylized fight scenes a sense of weight and authenticity. Sure, there are a few recycled plot points. So what? It’s the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, and that familiar flavor never fails to satisfy. I look forward to enjoying several more helpings, and I’ll be sad when the meal finally, inevitably ends.

[Originally written March 10, 2018.]

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