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The story takes place in feudal Japan, when any commerce with the rest of the world was strictly prohibited. An idealist suddenly appears in an isolated inn (the one that the title refers to), the head-quarters of a group of smugglers, with stolen money intended to ransom his loved one who is forced to work in a brothel. Written by
"Anything can happen in Easy Tavern. What a great name!"
A gang of misfits, the innkeeper and his daughter, a drunk and a wounded young man find themselves holed up inside an inn called the Easy Tavern as they wait to transport smuggled goods from a Dutch ship. It sounds like the beginning of a joke but it's anything but. It's another opportunity for Masaki Kobayashi to probe the depths of the human spirit in this period drama set in Feudal Japan.
I won't go into plot specifics because part of what makes Kobayashi's movies so powerful is the experience of letting all the details slowly sink in until the final catharsis hits you like a ten ton hammer. If you've ever been left dumbfounded by the sheer emotional power of his movies, Inn of Evil will not disappoint. All his stylistic hallmarks are present. The plights of ordinary men forced to extreme measures by the corruption and oppression of the rich and powerful. Character flaws rooted in the past blocking their inner need. Emotionally scarred people in search of redemption. Long narrations that reveal character and motive. The final catharsis of people overcoming their flaws by sacrificing a part of themselves. If Kobayashi is among the most powerful film-makers in the history of movies, it's because he so perfectly understands tragedy. His movies are essentially ancient Greek tragedies with the characters themselves acting as the "deus ex machina". And it takes divine strength for them to sacrifice themselves with such selflessness.
The characters and their choices and motivation follow Kobayashi's personal style. Like the drunkard (played by the great Shintaro Katsu) redeeming himself for his past foolish ambitions and greed, by giving up his savings to a young man who needs to buy his wife back from the brothel her father sold her. Were it not for the slight ending Inn of Evil would have ranked up there with Seppuku or Samurai Rebellion. The idea behind the final cathartic showdown is great (a large number of enemy soldiers with lanterns in their hands chasing the heroes in a dark field) but the realization suffers a bit. Maybe for lack of budget or shooting time, it's not as stylish or well choreographed as one would expect. The only swordfighting takes place in these final 10 minutes and it's again not very impressive, so chambara fans might wanna look elsewhere for their slice and dice fix. The print I saw was a bit too dark and muddled so it didn't help things much either. Criterion need to get their hands on this one pronto.
The acting is as good as one would expect from a cast spearheaded by the brilliant Tatsuya Nakadai and Shintaro Katsu and the photography is in beautiful black and white with very nice exterior shots. The heart of the movie is what matters though and Inn of Evil comes with a great story about man's need for redemption. Strongly recommended.
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