In 19th Century Japan, Rokubei (Ganjirō Nakamura) and his wife Osugi (Izusu Yamada), own a slum which they rent out to poor people. Those people include prostitutes, gamblers, and criminals, who are being bled dry by their landlord.
Osugi once had an affair with Sutekichi (Toshiro Mifune) a handsome thief who is now having an affair with her sister.
This sister, Okayo, brings a guest into the slum, a priest (Bokuzen Hidari), who tries to help people with their lives.
Kurosawa's adaptation of the Gorky play provides examples of...
- The Alcoholic: Unokichi is the wacky, fun kind, and the actor is the sad, forgetful kind.
- Bad Habits: Kahei is a gentle, well-intentioned man, but it's implied that he's had a few run-ins with the authorities.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Tomekichi keeps wishing his wife was dead. She finally dies, and Tomekichi frets over having to pay for her funeral.
- Betty and Veronica: Osugi (Betty) Okayo (Veronica) and Sutekichi (Archie), although Osugi has more of the personality of a Veronica.
- Black Comedy: Like the play, the film is a darkly humorous story about a group of residents in a slum.
- Black Comedy Burst: The ending, particularly Yoshisaburo's final line.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Koji Mitsui does a pretty good Bokuzen Hidari impression in the final scene.
- Crapsack World: It's a slum, of course. The conditions are poor, the people are callous and selfish, and the system is corrupt.
- Deadpan Snarker: Yoshisaburo is arguably the biggest one.Rokubei: Sutekichi, can I open the door?
Yoshisaburo: Might as well open Pandora's box...
- Domestic Abuse: Tomekichi beats, verbally abuses and ignores Asa.
- Downer Ending: Kahei leaves, meaning nobody's life has improved. Sutekichi is banished, Osugi is in jail and Okayo is nowhere to be seen. Although Shimazo and Otaki live in the landlord and landlady's place, it's not exactly the jackpot, especially because Shimazo has been fired. And worst of all, the actor loses all hope and takes his own life.
- The Dreaded: Osugi, even more than Rokubei. She's so terrifying that even Unokichi is afraid of her.
- Driven to Suicide: The actor. Osen considers it, but doesn't go through with it.
- Fake Aristocrat: Tonosama claims to be a former samurai, but he's more likely this. He smokes, drinks in excess, pays Osen the prostitute for sex, insults everybody and cheats at gambling, behaviour unbecoming of his supposed status. His only evidence is a broken katana.
- Forgetful Jones: The actor, for the life of him, can not remember the lines he used to say. Ironically, when he does remember, nobody is around to hear him except for Osen, who thinks he's "high as a kite".
- Henpecked Husband: Shimazo is beaten and bossed around by his wife, Otaki, at the end, but you can't blame her.
- Gossipy Hens: Unokichi is a male version. He's the one who spills the beans that Sutekichi has been having sex with Okayo.
- Incoming Ham: Unokichi makes his entrance by singing a song loudly and horribly out of tune while dancing wildly and thumping on a drum, and proclaiming his release from jail at the top of his voice."TheeeeeEEEERE ONCE WAS A TRIANGULAR FELLOW, WHO STOOD ON A SQUARE PLATFORM, PLAYING HIS SONG..."
- Incurable Cough of Death: Asa, Tomekichi's wife.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Sutekichi kills Rokubei by accident.
- Kids Are Cruel: Not so much mean as ignorant, but at the beginning of the film two little boys are shown dumping rubbish right into where this group of people are living.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sutekichi is a thief and a womaniser, but he cares about the other people he lives with. Compared to the other characters, he's one of the nicer ones.
- Large Ham: Unokichi is a living cartoon.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Naturally, since it's based on a Gorky play.
- Morality Pet: Tonosama is as callous and mean as the rest of them, but when the actor dies, he's so horrified that he doesn't hesitate to run and tell everyone.
- Nice Guy: Kahei is "a scoundrel" as Tonosama says, but very well meaning.
- Non Sequitur, *Thud*: In the final scene, a drunken Shimazo staggers in, sits down, mumbles some nonsense and passes out.Shimazo: Anyway, a tiger means bamboo, bamboo means a sparrow, a peony... a peony... (his head lolls forward while he sits) zzzz...
- Noodle Implements: Yoshisaburo murdered a "jerk" with a cleaver ten years prior to the events of the film, but he's not keen to tell Kahei why. In the play, Satine, Yoshisaburo's counterpart, killed a man who had offended his sister, but the details of Yoshisaburo's crime are much more of a mystery.
- Odd Name Out: Asa is the only woman in the film whose name doesn't begin with "O": the other women are Osugi, Okayo, Osen and Otaki.
- Police Are Useless: Shimazo is a police deputy, but not a particularly good one. His incompetence eventually gets him fired.
- Put on a Bus: Sutekichi and Okayo. Sutekichi is banished, and nobody has heard of Okayo since her acquittal
- Silk Hiding Steel: Kahei, the priest, hints himself to be this.Kahei: Oh, I'm a pebble beside the river, washed down from the mountains. I'm polished and smooth all over.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: Tatsu does this to Shimazo, the deputy.Tatsu: Why don't you hurry up... (he screams at Shimazo through his unfinished bucket as though it were a megaphone) AND HITCH YOURSELF TO OTAKI?!
- Woman Scorned: Osugi, whom Sutekichi ditched years ago for Okayo.