A Samurai aficionado and Zatoichi fan -- let's call him John -- was well known to Video Action back in its heyday (they've since gone out of business). "John" was in contact with VA frequently, and when he learned that some of the Zatoichi titles weren't going to be released by VA, he decided to do something about it. Though it's unknown what he used as masters, he took it upon himself to translate and subtitle #14 (as well as other Zatoichi films), and subsequently sell them on the Internet.

I've heard from those who have purchased "Zatoichi's Pilgrimage" from John's website. It is said to be a very good rendition with excellent translations. The quality of the DVD transfer is, in their words, every bit as good as any other Zatoichi DVD released in the U.S. John is very good at what he does and his product proves it.Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi

However, to be clear: What he sells are bootlegged, illegal, unlicensed copies.

Without ever denying this fact, John's approach to all this, put simply, is: He wants Samurai fans everywhere to enjoy these hard-to-be-had films. To his credit, he's stated that once a title is legally licensed, he stops making the bootleg copies. John's big complaint is that other bootleggers are making copies of his illegal ware and selling them on eBay or other websites.

John is probably not the only bootlegger of #14 -- there are undoubtedly others -- but he's one I am familiar with and it's his website that many have written to me about.

But just as I wouldn't publicly tell you where you can buy stolen laptops or pilfered software, I won't disclose John's website. If you hunt around long enough, you'll come across it. I've received many e-mails from fans who have told me in no uncertain terms that I'm wrong because they know where to find legal copies of #14. They know because they've purchased a copy, and it's a good copy, professionally done. It's so good a copy that it has to be legal. And nothing on the seller's website says it's an illegal copy. So it must be legal.


Having said that, however, I want to make a very important point: I am NOT suggesting that anyone steer clear of seeking and purchasing #14. Nor am I condemning those that have purchased it. I write this article only to shed light on the history and mystery surrounding #14, not to moralize. I have no compulsion to be the Zatoichi sales cop.

This licensing ordeal could easily be solved if the Katsu family would license #14. But they haven't and I've yet to hear of that situation changing any time soon. My guess is it has nothing to do with money, nothing that adding an extra zero to a bank draft will fix. My guess, and it is a guess, is that the family is honoring a wish, possibly Shintaro Katsu's own wish. The truth may remain a mystery for a long time, maybe forever.

In some ways I agree with bootlegger John: The film was produced to be viewed by samurai enthusiasts and Zatoichi fans, not to be held in a vault and marveled like a rare coin. I can't fault Zatoichi fans for wanting to seek out this title, this one title that many others don't own, much less haven't seen.

So, to Zatoichi devotees everywhere: If you look hard enough you can find and, in all probability, enjoy "Zatoichi's Pilgrimage," that Holy Grail, the missing link of the Zatoichi filmdom.

But don't write saying I'm wrong about its legality.

Writer's note: The above information was gleaned from e-mails, phone calls, personal recollections, first- and second-hand conversations, and dealings with some of the aforementioned businesses. This couldn't have been written without the groundwork and research toiled by the Rev. Hernandez, a devoted Zatoichi enthusiast and good friend.

Please don't write me arguing about the merits (or demerits) of the current copyright laws and how they shouldn't (or can't) be applied to the Internet. The situation surrounding #14 is what it is. Arguing about the law doesn't change the situation even if I agree with you. (And don't write in all CAPS. Lower and upper case letters were created to make for easier reading.)

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