by Chris MaGee
Here's a bit of news that all of you hardcore chanbara film fans out there have probably already twigged about. According to 24 Frames Per Second the first six of the 26-film "Zatoichi" series are now available for streaming online for free! That's the good news. The bad news is that these six films - "The Tale of Zatoichi", "The Tale of Zatoichi Continues", "New Tale of Zatoichi", "Zatoichi The Fugitive", "On the Road", and "Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold" - are only available for streaming in the U.S. via Hulu. Talk about a tease for us Canadians and you folks on the other side of the Atlantic!
Many hardcore Zatoichi fans will obviously not be bothered by the fact that this online streaming is only available south of the border as these six films have been available on DVD through Home Vision Entertainment for some time now. Or at least they were.
It turns out that many of these "Zatoichi" discs, as well as quite a few of HVE's other Japanese titles, have recently gone out of print due to their signed agreement with The Criterion Collection, who owned the North American rights to these films, expired at the start of 2010. This obviously frees up the Criterion folks to post these online, but it also leaves a lot of film fans holding onto out of print DVDs. I think that my collection has at least a dozen of the Home Vision Entertainment discs. See? Even though I may beat myself up for spending far too much of my money on collecting DVDs it's stories like this that vindicate that spending. One day a DVD is as common as dirt and the next minute they're rare as gold. Something to think about.