Spawning 26 sequels and 100 TV episodes, Shantaro Katsu's Zatoichi is a legendary hero of Japanese entertainment. Which makes it kind of wierd, I think, that I've never heard of him before now.

In this, his first feature film appearance, now appearing on DVD, Zatoichi shows the same kind of gumption that makes Clint Eastwood's characters such unlikely heroes -- but heroes nonetheless. For starters, what audience will identify with him? He's a blind masseur who lives by the Yakuza mercenary code, wandering from village to village while vanquishing his tormentors with a sword he wields with deadly accuracy. Though blind (and, let's face it, ugly and nearly obese), he can still toss a candle into the air, draw his sword, and slice it in two... lengthwise, with both sides still burning.

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