Inn of Evil (1971)
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi

Inn of Evil
Inochi bonifuro
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai (Sadahichi), Shintaro Katsu (The drunk), Kei Yamamoto (Tomi), Kanemon Nakamura (Boss Ikuzo), Komaki Kurihara (Omitsu), Shin Kishida (Genzo), Ichiro Nakaya (Okajima)
Screenplay by Kyoko Miyazaki
Cinematography by Kozo Okazaki

Toho Company, 121 minutes
B&W, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Samurai DVD

Kobayashi's Inn of Evil is a bleak yakuza story about a gang of smugglers awaiting an inevitable doom. In the setting of the Tokugawa era, Japan was under strict isolation from the outside world and foreign trade was forbidden. With the upper class having an appetite for exotic goods, there was a booming black market that the "heroes" of our story operate in. Their headquarters on a tiny island is a seedy establishment ironically called the Easy Tavern. It's a private club that doesn't admit outsiders, but three strangers who pass through its doors will change everything.

The gang's main enforcer (Tatsuya Nakadai) calls himself Sadahichi the Indifferent, an entirely fitting sobriquet. He's a lot like Nakadai's cold-blank-stare psychopaths from Yojimbo and The Sword of Doom, only with an awesome Elvis pompadour and sideburns. Sadahichi seems to care about nothing and nobody. We learn that he even killed his own mother when he found her working as a prostitute.

While the smugglers are planning for a big shipment coming in from Holland, they run across a young man named Tomi who's had the crap beat out of him. At first the gangsters ridicule Tomi and call him a wimp, but he gains their sympathy after explaining his story. After struggling to free his fiancee from her enslavement at a brother, he has lost all his money and given up hope.

The Easy Tavern has stayed in operation by bribing and intimidating local officials. But now there's an idealistic new sheriff in town who believes he can single-handedly clean the place up. Officer Okajima barges in to confront Boss Ikuzo and snoop around, demanding the names of all his men. The one-man investigation goes on for a prolonged period when the certain outcome is never in doubt, and Sadahichi ends the suspense by taking care of business.

After the raid, Sadahichi resolve to help Tomi have a chance to reunite with his woman. Even though it's practically hopeless, Sadahichi finds something to admire in Tomi's willingness to throw his life away for nothing. Boss Ikuzo notes with respect that it's the first time these criminals have ever wanted to do something for the sake of someone besides themselves. But things don't go as planned, and this time the Easy Tavern is surrounded by a whole squadron of police officers.

The most memorable aspect of Inn of Evil is the supporting role played by the great Shintaro Katsu. He shows up at the Easy Tavern as a nameless wandering drunk who doesn't know the inn is off-limits to the general public. After he gets tossed out, he staggers right back in. When he's informed once again that they don't serve strangers, he replies that this is his second visit, so he's not a stranger anymore. (I'm positive we've heard that same witty exchange in a Wild West saloon or two.) The amused Boss Ikuzo lets the drunkard stay and drink.

Katsu mostly just hangs out in the background for the rest of the movie, occasionally throwing in a funny comment or two. Then in the final reel he delivers an incredible monologue that furthers the ongoing Kobayashi theme of presenting characters who look like worthless dregs until they get a chance to have their say and share their humanity.

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