Perhaps best known for his skillful direction of the epic Samurai Trilogy, Hiroshi Inigaki certainly made some valuable contributions to Japanese cinema. Unfortunately, Incident at Blood Pass (Machibuse, 1970) was the director's final film, but it wasn't a bad way to go out. Starring two of Japan's most popular leading men, Toshiro Mifune (seen above) and Shintaro Katsu (better known as the original "Zatoichi", and who also starred with Mifune in Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo earlier that year), Incident at Blood Pass is a classic example of an entertaining samurai film that still holds up well today. Almost too well, even.
Things start off interestingly enough, as the character simply known as "Yojimbo" (Mifune, who played the same character in Kurosawa's Yojimbo and Sanjuro roughly eight years earlier) is presented with a simple task: go to a remote mountains pass, and wait for something to happen. Something happens soon enough, as Yojimbo is suddenly caught in the middle of a mysterious web involving a gang of thieves, a government official, a blacklisted doctor (Katsu), a young woman and a lot of money (there's more, believe me).
Although there's plenty of other elements to enjoy---including terrific cinematography and a relatively quick pace---this wonderful cast of characters is the real meat of the story. There's great interaction here, enough to entertain first-time viewers and keep die-hard fans coming back for more. Even without the usual partnership with Kurosawa, Mifune is as entertaining and charismatic as usual---although many first-time viewers may be surprised at his more serious tone this time around (unlike the more light-hearted Sanjuro, for example).
Sure, there's more action-packed samurai films to be found, but Incident at Blood Pass is a solid film with great characters, visuals, and acting. It's a fine jumping-on point for those new to the genre, but it's smart enough to please veterans of the genre. AnimEigo really struck out with the recent release of Samurai Assassin, and while their presentation efforts for Incident at Blood Pass certainly aren't perfect, they're a step in the right direction. While there's not quite enough substance to this disc to really warrant such a high price tag, the audio and video quality should be good enough to tide over most fans of classic samurai cinema. Let's look closer, shall we?
Although the overall video presentation could have been more polished, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is generally pleasing enough to get by...with a few exceptions, of course. A fully remastered image would have helped to showcase the wonderful cinematography much better, but it could be a lot worse. The colors are generally washed out and darker scenes are on the muddy side, but the overall image seems to be fairly clean and exhibits a moderate amount of detail (although I can't judge too harshly, as I doubt the source material was in pristine condition anyway). The Japanese 1.0 Mono mix sounds relatively clean, with dialogue and the film's score coming through adequately. English subtitles have been provided for the Japanese impaired.
There's no doubt that Incident at Blood Pass is worth watching---especially for Mifune fans---but whether or not this disc is worth owning is another matter entirely. The technical presentation isn't half bad for a film of its age, but the lack of real bonus features makes this one a hard sell for $30. Unless you're simply replacing a worn-out VHS copy, most fans of the genre are better off giving this one a weekend look until a more definitive version comes along. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is a surprisingly agile art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.