Monday, April 17, 2006

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (Kurosawa, 1945)

Kurosawa's early one-acter The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail has a plot -- perhaps plot is not the right word to describe it as it is hardly more than an extended situation -- that is reminiscent of his later work The Hidden Fortress. As in that film, a member of the upper class eludes capture by slumming it with the lower classes, this time as a porter in the service of a group of men disguised as travelling monks. Since word has got out to be on the lookout for a party of seven, the group recruits another man, a true porter, to make their number eight. Unfortunately, the new man has what just might be the worst poker face in the history of the world. The film centers upon a scene in which the men encounter the border officers and must convince them that "these are not the druids you're looking for." There are aspects of the film that are rather enjoyable, such as the unseen chorus that supplements the action by singing their reactions or providing background information. Kurosawa also does a good job of building tension and orchestrating his actors (especially a fantastic scene where one large group of people moves forwards and another moves backwards). Still, the film never feels another more than lightweight with its hammy comic relief and a lesson in class distinction that does not seem particularly illuminating or resonant. Far from essential, but certainly not embarrasssing, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is really a film only for those who want a complete picture of the career of a great director.



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