by Jerry A. Sierra
The movies featured in the Zatoichi 25-Film Criterion Collection are absolutely gorgeous to look at, providing the highest image and audio quality and marking a vast improvement over previous DVD versions. The new restorations should finally dispel bad information, based on the low quality of earlier DVDs, about the splendor of the original films.
It’s a pricey item, but considering what you get, a bargain.
The big surprise in the films is the great overall performance by Shintaro Katsu in the lead role. “You’d have to go back to the silent era,” writes Geoffrey O’Brien in the book that comes with the package, “to find an actor developing the same role over so many films and with such inventive energy.”
As we’ve grown to expect from a Criterion edition, the disk menus are elegant and navigable, and you never have to watch a bunch of previews.
The box that houses these treasures is stunning, with beautiful illustrations by Ron Wimberly. Inside is a beautifully illustrated book and a cardboard disk wallet with 9 “pages,” each with 3 disks. The pages fold out to show 2 DVDs on the left side and 1 Blu-ray on the right.
The matching booklet, also quite beautiful, includes the essay by Geoffrey O’Brien, the original short story by Kan Shimozawa on which the Ichi character is based, plot descriptions for each film and colorful paintings and drawings by artists such as Bill Sienkiewicz, Josh Cochran, Paul Pope and others.
Strangely, neither the book nor the case nor the disks feature any photographic images from the film or of the actors.
One issue with the cardboard sleeves may not be so minor; it’s not easy to pull the disks out, and attempts become an act of domination, as disks tend to get stuck and there’s no safe way to coax them out. It’s very likely that repeated removal from their polished paper castle will scratch them.
The wise thing would be to transfer the disks to a CD wallet that could better protect them, which will make the beautiful box completely useless. The set includes 27 disks; 9 Blu-rays with 3 films each except for the last one, which has 1 film and the extras, and 18 DVDs. You can always give away the 18 DVDs or 9 Blu-rays you’ve no use for. (See Sidebar for some creative suggestions on how to deal with this dilemma)
Future versions of this box set should be made available in the different formats for those smart enough to wait… I’m one of the suckers that couldn’t wait. Here’s why.
NEXT: The Films