Zatoichi: The Best Cuts 1967-1973
International Title
Music By: Various
Record Label: La-La Land Records
Running Time: 47:05 Discs: 1
Release: September 2009 CD Number: LLLCD-1102
Anthony Romero
This CD, limited to just 1500 copies, compiles music from all of the Toho owned, not produced as the booklet states, Zatoichi films. This includes both those Toho released and those that Daiei released to which Toho now simply own the rights for due to an agreement with Katsu Productions. This release, like their The Best of "Lone Wolf and Cub" (LLLCD-1017), is a re-release of sorts of an older King Records CD, Zatoichi Musical Journey 3 (KICA-3025). A lot of content has been removed though, which will be discussed later. First, though, let's get down to the music that is here.

The disc starts off with Sei Ikeno's work for Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967). Sadly, the cues from this film sound a little muffled outside of the very clear vocal track "Farming Song". This is really a shame as Ikeno has really stepped up into his own, much improved since his earlier work on films such as The Secret of the Telegian (1960). Next up is a single track from Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970). Rather unfortunate there isn't more music from Akira Ifukube's score for the film present. Furthermore, the only track that is here contains sound effects, in the form of wind, and some dialogue from Shintaro Katsu. It's not straight from the movie though, since the film opens up with a baby crying and none of this is included. So it was a direct choice to include the wind and the very specific dialogue that they did, although why this was done is beyond me.

Following this is the show stopper of the disc: from Isao Tomita comes the wonderful score for Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970). There are a total of nine tracks for this movie, more than any other on the disc. The selection includes such great tracks as the very soothing "Title Back" and the very energetic "Great Sword Battle on the Oil Ship" which is a perfect blend of more contemporary instruments with trumpets. The music from this film finishes with the great "Ending" theme, which is a reprise of the opening credits although with a nice swell in the audio added to the closure. After this comes Tomita's second foray into the Zatoichi franchise with Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (1971). Sadly, Tomita hangs up his more traditional scoring with a few experimental touches for a soundtrack that is almost entirely experimental with only a few traditionally orchestrated tracks thrown in. This was Tomita's almost full shift toward synthesization, which he would eventually master a few years later for his excellent work on Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974) but at this point he still needed a lot of refinement. The result is a lot of ear splitting tracks such as "Main Title", "The Invincible Chinese Sword", "Wong Gong and Kakuzen", and "Break! Chinese Sword/Ending". In truth, the instances of trumpet work, still a trademark of the composer, are about the only breath of relief from this soundtrack.

Moving on, the disc includes two tracks from composer Kunihiko Murai, who is grossly overlooked. He did two films, and only has a single track from each of them included. The quality for the first of these, from Zatoichi at Large (1972), is really bad too and even fades out and back in awkwardly meaning a film source was probably used. The cue from Zatoichi in Desperation (1972) also sounds to be in slightly poor shape as well, which is rather unfortunate as the composer did some interesting work for the series. Finally, the disc ends with Ifukube's score to Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973), a great score from the maestro. It opens up with the very soothing "Zatoichi Takes Edo Highway" before going into the more upbeat "Main Title". The selection here lacks the general punch that most are familiar with for Ifukube, but falls back on some very nice lower key work from the composer.

Now, as previously mentioned, this disc is a re-release with some content taken out. The removed content includes the tracks for Zatoichi Challenged and Zatoichi and the Fugitives, which is to be expected as the movies are not owned by Toho unlike the others on this release. The content for Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967), originally on Zatoichi Musical Journey 2 (KICA-3024), has also been added in, although La-La Land Records has thankfully broken the themes up as they were originally present as a single suite. Otherwise, though, this disc is mostly the same as the 1998 release. The track titles are even mostly the same, with a few exceptions such as "Title Back" for Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970), although this was probably just a mistranslation of the King Records track title which is "Title Background" or "Film Credits" as they are often translated as.

Bottom line, this is an uneven release. It contains the fantastic scores to Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970) and Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973), but some of the other selection is iffy, either in terms of audio quality or the theme itself. This is also a very short CD. It would have been great had La-La Land fleshed out some of the films hardly represented here, especially Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970) which deserves far more than one track for it. Since so much content was removed from King Records' originally full CD the disc could easily have done with some more music added.

As an odd side note, the front of this release credits Shigeru Ikeno as a composer. This is a straight Romaji translation of his name, but Sei Ikeno is more commonly used to identify him with, and the back and side of the release credit "Sei Ikeno" as well. So it seems there was a disconnect with whoever did the cover and the rest of the packaging for this release.
Rating: Star Rating
    Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967)
    Composer: Sei Ikeno
  1. Main Title
  2. Farming Song
  3. Asagorou
  4. Theme Song to "Zatoichi"

    Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)
    Composer: Akira Ifukube
  5. Daiei Mark/Main Title

    Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970)
    Composer: Isao Tomita
  6. Main Title
  7. Title Back
  8. The Dark Shogun
  9. Great Sword Battle on the Oil Ship
  10. Zatoichi Falls Into a Trap
  11. Zatoichi and the Dark Shogun
  12. Conclusion - Ichi and the Nameless Ronin
  13. Ichi and Okiyo
  14. Ending

    Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (1971)
    Composer: Isao Tomita
  15. Dainichi Mark
  16. Main Title
  17. The Tragic Chinaman/Genocide
  18. The Invincible Chinese Sword
  19. Ichi and Oyone
  20. Wong Gong and Kakuzen
  21. Break! Chinese Sword/Ending

    Zatoichi at Large (1972)
    Composer: Kunihiko Murai
  22. Main Theme

    Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

    Composer: Kunihiko Murai
  23. Ending

    Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973)
    Composer: Akira Ifukube
  24. Zatoichi Takes Edo Highway
  25. Main Title
  26. Ichi and Omiyo – Encounter
  27. Ichi and Omiyo - Farewell
  28. The Wounded People/Shinbei's Conspiracy
  29. Zatoichi - Victimization in Kasama
  30. Shinbei's Final Moment
  31. Ending