Stars: Denjiro Okochi, Susumu Fujita, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, sometimes referred to as They Who Step on the Tiger's Tail, is an early film by Akira Kurosawa. Completed in 1945 but didn't see release until 1952 due to the war that was going on at the time.
A group of seven men and their porter, disguised as Buddhist monks, must swindle their way past an enemy checkpoint which has been set up to stop them from escaping.
The film is adapted from the kabuki play Kanjincho, and the older Noh play Ataka. The film's stage-play origins definitely show in the film. There's not very many locations in the film and many scenes are very long and focused. Kurosawa's signature wipe transition seems more like a curtain closing in here.
Should be noted that the film is on the short side at about an hour long. This prevents the film from ever dragging or feeling boring, because it is a little on the slower side. But it's a good film. From its opening scenery shots that remind one of Rashomon, to the middle long scene of the fake monks trying to trick dozens of enemies (definitely the scene that steals the show here), to the end boozing and dancing and somewhat ambiguous ending (an ambiguity that was never before present in previous versions of the story); it's all really great and enjoyable.
The dialogue and general writing is very well also, as one may expect it must be in a film without much action. There's even some heavy suspense at times. There's also a dimension of comedy present in the form of the porter, played by then-famous Japanese comedian Enoken. It all works well and Kurosawa's directing makes the film especially shine.
The cast is pretty great too, kind of like an assembly of Kurosawa regulars (though, of course, the loved Toshiro Mifune was yet to star in a Kurosawa film). There's Denjiro Okochi playing a very large role, a face Kurosawa fans may recognize from Judo Saga and No Regrets for Our Youth. Susumu Fujita plays an equally important role, known for starring also in Judo Saga and No Regrets for Our Youth, and would become a Kurosawa regular when he'd appear in minor roles in many later films such as The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, Yojimbo, and High and Low. Masayuki Mori, the man who would go on to play a the samurai in Rashomon and star in The Idiot, makes an appearance. And of course, last but certainly not least, there is Toho regular (and in turn Kurosawa regular) Takashi Shimura, who has appeared in even more Kurosawa films than Mifune has. So it's definitely an interesting cast for big Kurosawa fans.
All in all it's a very impressive film from an early Kurosawa and probably his best film hitherto. Highly recommended for Kurosawa fans and worth a watch even for those who aren't.
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