Incident at Blood Pass (1970)
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Incident at Blood Pass
Starring Toshiro Mifune (The ronin), Shintaro Katsu (Gentetsu), Kinnosuke Nakamura (Ibuki), Yujiro Ishihara (Yataro), Ruriko Asaoka (Okuni), Mika Kitagawa (Oyuki), Ichiro Arishima (Tokubei), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Itahachi)
Screenplay by Kyu Fujiki, Ichiro Miyagawa, Hideo Oguni and Hajime Takaiwa
Cinematography by Kazuo Yamada
Music by Masaru Sato

Toho Company, 117 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: AnimEigo (Out of print)

After the sturm und drang of his ambitious Samurai Banners, Hiroshi Inagaki settled back into a smaller-scale project for what turned out to be his final film, Incident at Blood Pass. I really love the old-school Hollywood feel of this movie. The major-league cast brings together three top marquee stars – Toshiro Mifune, Shintaro Katsu and Kinnosuke Nakamura – and their combined presence creates the sort of air you mind find in a late-late show with John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart all in one picture. With its with a colorful set of characters mostly confined to the interior of the Minoya Inn, seems like a stage adaptation, and it completely reminds me of John Ford's classics. It's a lot like a jidai-geki version of Stagecoach, with a group of strangers thrown together for a hazardous ordeal, only here they're not on wheels.

Incident at Blood Pass represented one half of a gentlemen's agreement between Mifune and Katsu to make two films together, this one produced by Mifune's company and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo produced by Katsu's. The popular notion is that Mifune is unofficially reprising his legendary Yojimbo character in both films. His mystery man here doesn't seem to have quite the same irascible temperament as Sanjuro, but it's fun to pretend it's him. Maybe a decade of travels has worn down his hard edges a bit.

The movie leads off with a hig-concept premise that would be an easy sell for a Bruce Willis or Matt Damon remake. A crime boss called "Crow" hires the unnamed Mifune ronin for a top-secret mission. It's so secret Crow won't even tell him what he's supposed to do. All the ronin knows is to expect a signal telling him to go to one of two places. When he gets there, he's supposed to "wait for something to happen." It's implied that this will involve his killing someone, but Crow won't be any more specific.

So Mifune gets his coded message to head for Sanshuu Pass, a.k.a. Blood Pass. On his way there he helps an abused woman named Okuni escape from her husband. They reach the Minoya Inn at Sanshuu Pass, where they end up getting involved with a oddball assortment of characters: the innkeeper and his granddaughter, a gambler, an alcoholic ex-doctor (Katsu) and a police officer (Nakamura) who's just been injured in the apprehension of a thief. Various squabbles and fisticuffs break out amongst the assemblage, who find themselves uneasily sequestered together when the captured thief's gang partners attempt his release and a dark conspiracy emerges. And the Mifune character figures out what he's supposed to do, and it isn't very nice.

Incident at Blood Pass is pure old-fashioned entertainment, so traditional in its style and structure that Inagaki even manages to squeeze in a song and dance number midway through when a band of drum festival performers drops by the inn for an impromptu gig. And the final scene has Mifune cutting down seven guys in as many seconds before turning away to walk down a misty highway trail. A fitting final capstone to a grand master's illustrious career in cinema.

The Jidai-Geki Knights