Yakuza of Ina (1960)
Directed by Masahiro Makino

Yakuza of Ina
Yataro gasa
Starring Kinnosuke Nakamura (Yataro), Satomi Oka (Yuki), Sumiko Hidaka (Maki), Denjiro Okochi (Boss Tora), Minoru Chiaki (Kichitaro), Susumu Fujita (Boss Daihachi), Chiyonosuke Azuma (Magistrate Kuwayama)

Toei Company, 96 minutes
B&W, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Yakuza of Ina is part of a long lineage of films about the traveling yakuza, Yataro. Originating in serialized stories by Kan Shimozawa, best known as the writer who created Zatoichi, the Yataro character appeared in some of the earliest silent films by Shozo Makino, the legendary founding father of Japanese cinema. Yataro was later played by Chiezo Kataoka in a series of films by Hiroshi Inagaki in the 1930s, and Raizo Ichikawa took the role in a 1957 version by Kazuo Mori. In 1960, Masahiro Makino followed in the footsteps of his father Shozo with this movie, which is the only version of Yataro that I've seen thus far.

Yakuza of Ina opens with the ever-familar scene of the wandering ronin/yakuza/drifter coming to a crossroads and tossing some pointer object in the air (in this case, Yataro's straw yakuza hat) to decide which direction to take. Fate leads Yataro to meet and take up residence with the kindly Boss Tora, where the traveler strikes up a flirtatious semi-relationship with the Boss's lovely daughter Yuki. But Yuki is preoccupied by her widowed father's plans to marry a woman named Maki. Yuki knows Maki is just a golddigger in cahoots with the devious Boss Daihachi to con Boss Tora out of his gambling territory and logging operations.

Yataro enlists the aid of his childhood friend Kuwayama, now the local magistrate, to expose Maki's treachery and secret romance with Daihachi. After the humiliated Tora ends his relationship with Maki, Daihachi has him silenced. So Yataro is left to seek vengeance and reclaim Yuki's affections since his meddling led to her father's death.

Yakuza of Ina is kind of a mediocre ninkyo-eiga on the whole, but I feel like I would enjoy it more after seeing some of the older Yataro films to understand more about the character's heritage. The movie is carried by strong performances from Kinnosuke Nakamura and Satomi Oka as Yataro and Yuki, and Minoru Chiaki puts in a nice cameo as Yataro's shifty yakuza buddy Kichitaro.

Also worthy of mention is the movie's subversive use of song and dance. From the films I've seen, musical numbers are a trademark of Masahiro Makino, and he's always looking for an excuse for his characters to sing or put on a theatrical show. This tendency served him well in his numerous collaborations with Hibari Misora. In Yakuza of Ina, Yataro and Yuki sing and dance as part of a street festival, but things take a sinister turn when the dance leads to an ambush by killers in kabuki masks. The final showdown reprises the dancing kabuki murder motif to chilling effect.

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