And Mifune and Katsu were not the only draws. Director Hiroshi Inagaki had worked with Mifune before on his famous Samurai Trilogy (for which he won the best Foreign Film Oscar), and female lead Ruriko Asaoka was a major star at the time, starring in 121 films between 1955 and 1967. The supporting players, including Yûjirô Ishihara (Washi to taka, Man Who Causes a Storm) and Kinnosuke Nakamura (who later would play Ogami Itto in the Lone Wolf And Cub television series) were also name actors, making this truly a star studded film. With a pedigree this impressive, it would be expected that audiences would have high expectations.
But they certainly try. Mifune is on familiar ground playing a resourceful Ronin, and he’s fun to watch whether verbally sparring with Yataro, barely fighting off the advances of Okuni, or when he finally gets some face (and, too briefly, sword) time with Gentetsu. After his working relationship with Kurosawa ended, Mifune went on to make films of varying quality, but he’s obviously working hard here. However, it’s Shintarô Katsu who really bares his teeth playing a character very different than his blind masseuse and obviously relishing the opportunity to be such an unlikeable bastard. His sword skills are as impressive as ever, and he even manages to wring some surprising sympathy by the film’s end (though, not as much as the filmmakers seem to think, as he’s still rather despicable).
Surprisingly, it’s also not a very attractive film. Inagaki may not deserve blame, as this is quite a weak DVD transfer, but the scenery feels dull and muted with some impressive scenery shots being the only break from the rather muddy surroundings of the inn. There are some terrific scenes, particularly one where the Ronin and Yataro save Ibuki from being murdered by gangsters posing as officers, but things just drag on too long to sustain interest. As mentioned, the later scenes contain some impressive swordplay, though an early fistfight between Mifune and Yataro is embarrassing.
The ANIMEIGO DVD of Incident At Blood Pass is a bit of a disappointment compared to many of the companies other releases of Samurai films. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but the image is soft and dull. It’s certainly watchable, but a better transfer may have shown more respect for Inagaki’s compositions. Luckily, the film sounds quite good, and the soundtrack by Masaru Satô (Yojimbo) is striking and memorable. Subtitles are available in both Full and Limited english, and seem to be quite well translated.
Special features are limited, though there are trailers for Incident At Blood Pass, Samurai Assassin (also starring Mifune), Lone Wolf and Cub – White Heaven In Hell, Zatoichi the Outlaw, Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman (with Jimmy Wang Yu) and Lady Snowblood. Also included are brief filmographies, character biographies and some impressive Program Notes which explains some of the historical background of the film. However, these 48(!) pages of notes can be a little difficult to read, so i’d recommend just checking them out on the Animeigo website.
Occasionally interesting but frequently uneventful, Incident At Blood Pass wastes a great cast on a talky script that provides little in the way of interesting plot developments. The scenes with Mifune and Katsu facing off are electric, but the climax fizzles out and is confusing, and the picture never manages to build up any momentum. Disappointing considering the talent involved.