Zatôichi_monogatariAs I had previously discussed in an older Sunday Matinee, the Criterion Collection has just released (on November 26) a box set containing all 25 Zatôichi movies. Today I take a look at the first film.

In 1962 The Tale of Zatôichi (Zatôichi monogatari) hit movie theatre screens and kicked started one of the longer running franchises in film history. The first film sets up the basic setting and background for the series.

Set during the late Edo period, Zatôichi (Shintarô Katsu) is a blind masseur who travels from town to town looking for work. Zatôichi is also a master swordsman and his reputation is well known. Zatôichi hits a small town looking for work. There are two rival yakuza gangs in the town. The one crime boss has heard of Zatôichi and decides to hire him. When the other crime boss hears of this he hires a similarly skilled swordsman to take out Zatôichi. Unbeknownst to both crime bosses both swordsman become friends and Zatôichi is reluctant to fight him.

The first two movies were shot in black and white. Starting with third film in the series was shot in colour for the duration. There’s something awesome about Zatôichi. Actor Shintarô Katsu relays just the right tone of badassery and humbleness at the same time. The film’s story is simplistic, in fact it’s a similarly themed plot to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo but it works because of Shintarô Katsu.

The new Criterion set looks fantastic. It comes with both Blu-ray and DVD’s, which is Criterion’s new practice instead of releasing separate versions. There’s a couple of documentaries and a book with an essay about the series. Also included are 25 illustrations inspired by the films from such artists as Greg Ruth, Paul Pope, Scott Morse, Samuel Hiti, Josh Cochran, Evan Bryce, Ricardo Venâncio, Robert Goodin, Yuko Shimizu, Jorge Coelho, Vera Brosgol, Matt Kindt, Connor Willumsen, Patrick Leger, Jim Rugg, Jhomar Soriano, Angie Wang, Ming Doyle, Caitlin Kuhwald, Benjamin Marra, Bill Sienkiewicz, Andrew MacLean, Polly Guo, Barnaby Ward and Victor Kerlow. I love these movies and this is an awesome set.