Blind Menace – DVD Review

Shintaro Katsu was a man who made his living in Japanese cinema playing larger than life heroes on the big screen. For instance, in the Hanzo the Razor series he played a lawman that was a sexually charged samurai version of Dirty Harry, dealing out justice however he saw fit. More importantly, Katsu’s legacy as a star will be forever tied to the Zatoichi series, in which the actor played a blind masseur and swordsman, wandering from town to town in 26 different adventures, each film having him right the wrongs of social injustice, taking out evil samurai and yakuza by the score. This is why a movie like Blind Menace is such a shock to the system for longtime Katsu fans, a film in which the star played a character that not only skirted the law, but one that seemed to revel in his evil wrongdoings.

In the film, Katsu plays Suginoichi, a blind masseur who learns at an early age how to use his handicap as an advantage. By being able to manipulate people who underestimate him, the man gets away with all sorts of crimes from extortion to murder, his sociopathic tendencies knowing no ends. With no one suspecting a poor blind man of wrong doing he is able to commit atrocities at will, such as using acupuncture to kill a poor merchant on the side of the road or taking the virtue of a young woman he has come to fancy.

Said to be the movie that would go on to inspire the Zatoichi films, we get a look at how it would have played out if Katsu had taken his perennial do-gooder into dark territory. Suginoichi has no regard for anyone but himself, and when pushed to it, lying and killing are small prices to pay for his own fortunes. This is a fascinating study of malevolence, as Katsu’s charm and screen presence are used to wonderful effect, just as it would when he played Ichi, but totally devoid of his usual good nature.

Blind Menace is a must see for Katsu fans or fans of Japanese cinema in general. While having the character be blind may come off as a gimmick and makes Katsu seem like a one trick pony in retrospect, it actually manages to show just how much range Katsu had as an actor, giving us a terrifying look at how evil could be right under our noses. Though he will forever be known as the mythic Zatoichi, much in the way that Sean Connery will always be James Bond, Blind Menace shows an actor with tremendous skill, that never really got to wow us again in the same way this film does because of the success he found elsewhere. Would it have been worth it to give up some of his legacy as Ichi in order to have more opportunities like this one? It’s hard to say, but this film is a testament to the type of actor that Katsu really was.

AnimEigo once again does a terrific job with its presentation, as Blind Menace is given a very nice print, free of debris and with nice detail. The black and white photography is given an excellent treatment and the sound quality here is also quite good. This is pretty much what you’d expect from the company.

Unfortunately, the lack of extras is also what we’ve come to expect, with only a Trailer, Program Notes, Bios, and an Image Gallery on this edition.

Blind Menace shows Shintaro Katsu in incredible form, giving us a version of Zatoichi if the character were a sociopathic killer instead of a wandering hero. This is a terrific character study with some incredible acting from Katsu. Unfortunately, this disc isn’t as good as the movie, but it does have a nice print that is worth checking out.

AnimEigo presents Blind Menace. Directed by:Kazuo Mori. Starring: Shintaro Katsu and Toru Abe. Written by: Minoru Inuzuka. Running time: 91 mins. Rating: R. Released on DVD: June 15, 2010.