(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)
Director: Hiroshi Inagaki. Screenplay: Kyu Fujiki, Hideo Oguni, Hajime Takaiwa, Ichiro Myawaka. Photography: Kazuo Yamada. Music: Masaru Sato. Co-stars: Shintaro Katsu, Kinnosuke Nakamura, Ruriko Asaoka, Yujiro Ishihara.
A reincarnation of Yojimbo--and of a genre of costume drama that has always had a large place in Japanese movie history: the nihilistic lone wolf picture. Especially popular in the late 20s and early 30s (director Inagaki was at the time a pioneer of the form), these "have sword, will travel" films enjoyed a revival that by the 1970s extended to television.
Mifune, as the grizzled wanderer, has been hired for a mysterious mission, told only to show up at the Sanshu Pass on a certain date. On his way there he rescues Okuni, a beautiful damsel in distress. He escorts her to a hostelry near another mountain pass that is now a frequent route for fugitives from the law. Nearby lives Gentetsu, a doctor orf tarnished repute, who has allied himself with a secret society pledged to the crumbling fortunes of the Shogunate. Gentetsu and his band, eager to provide their faction with funds, are planning to attack a contingent of sumari on their way to clan headquarters with a shipment of gold and shortly scheduled to arrive at the pass. The ronin reluctantly gets caught up in the conflict, in the end dispatching Gentetsu and all his cohorts.
Mifune assembled an extraordinary cast of stars for this production. Katsu was at the height of popularity in his role as Zatoichi; Kinnosuke Nakamura was one of Toei's top attractions; Asaoka, too, enjoyed a wide following and had recently played similar roles; and Yujiro Ishihara, though on the wane, still had many fans and had in addition co-produced a previous film with Mifune.