The Paths of Zatoichi charts the history and influence of the Japanese film and television franchise about Zatoichi the blind swordsman. The franchise is comprised of 29 films and 100 TV episodes (starring the famous Shintaro Katsu, who starred in 26 of the 29 feature films). They all follow the adventures of a blind masseur in medieval Japan, who wanders from village to village and often has to defend himself with his deadly sword skills. The first film was released in 1962 and the most recent in 2010. These dates demonstrate how the franchise can be used as a means of charting Japanese cinema history, via the shifts in production practices and audience preferences which affected the Zatoichi series and numerous other film and TV texts. Zatoichi signifies a huge area of Japanese film history which has largely been ignored in much existing scholarly research, and yet it can reveal much about the appeal of long-running characters, franchises, and their constant adaptation and influence within global popular culture.
Jonathan Wroot is senior lecturer and program leader for film studies at the University of Greenwich.
Chapter One – Zatoichi’s Path Begins
Chapter Two – Zatoichi’s Path on the Silver Screen
Chapter Three – Zatoichi’s Path on the Small Screen
Chapter Four – The Global Paths of Zatoichi
Chapter Five – Zatoichi’s Remade Global Paths and Their Impact
Jonathan Wroot’s has packed The Paths of Zatoichi with information and analysis of this significant long-running character who goes across such a huge area of Japanese film history, and the book also has much to say about franchises, remakes and adaptations within global popular culture. Highly recommended.
The blind swordsman is one of the most iconic and significant tropes in global popular cinema, and this new volume is the most comprehensive account to date of the transnational influence of Zatoichi on these representations. Jonathan Wroot’s book expertly charts the impact of the character within US genre films like Blind Fury (1989), across the exploitation cycles of blind swordsman films produced in Taiwan and Indonesia, and even demonstrates the continued memetic influence of the character in blockbuster franchises like Daredevil (2015-) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Highly recommended.
Jonathan Wroot offers a rich and compelling history of the Zatoichi phenomenon from the early 1960s to the twenty-first century—a phenomenon that includes not only hundreds of films, TV episodes, spin-offs, and remakes in Japan, but also a host of imitations, appropriations, and crossovers from Taiwan, Indonesia, and even Hollywood studios. Painstakingly researched and written in plain, lucid language, this excellent study is an important contribution to scholarship on the action genre as well as on transnational flows of popular film and culture.
This important and expansive work shows how a film franchise like the immensely popular Zatoichi series of films and TV programs should not be understood as simply structurally contained in itself, representing a single culture or ideology, but like the wandering and sightless Zatoichi himself, as taking a myriad of paths in both time and space, changing as Japan transforms, while also flowing beyond borders to affect filmmaking from East and Southeast Asia to Hollywood. Here is where the significance of Zatoichi—and any franchise–lies.
Meticulously scholarly yet completely readable, Jonathan Wroot’s analysis of the many incarnations of Zatochi is an important addition to the literature on Japanese film and its transcultural influence.
Jonathan Wroot's exploration of the sprawling Zatoichi franchise invites the reader to travel a path less-trodden, revealing hidden intertextual landscapes of local and international exchange, while providing insightful revelations about the production of Japan's famed blind-swordsman series of films. Wroot's focus on the lesser-known avenues traveled by Zatoichi is just as revealing as traveling with him down the famed mainstreet of Hollywood's appropriations of the blind swordsman character. This book will appeal to those who want to understand how Japan makes franchises as much as it will appeal to martial arts and sci fi fans keen to seek out the origins of the favorite genre characters. Wroot's much-needed book maps the interlinking worlds created around Zatoichi and in doing so demonstrates how rich and far-reaching the character has become.
We often look at the character of Zatoichi as one of the stalwarts of Japanese period action cinema, forever wandering the insular world of Edo-era Japan with his trusted cane sword. Jonathan Wroot deftly demonstrates the blind swordsman's transnational sojourns, across screens large and small, stopping at waystations on a path that leads across the Asian and American continents. In doing so, he underlines that the Japanese cinema was never quite as self-contained or inward-looking as many have presented it to be, but rather a significant, vital, and perennially popular—in all senses of the word—node in both the Japanese media landscape and global film history.
5/13/22, Japan Foundation London: The author introduced his book in this virtual book talk.