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24 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Early Kurosawa is very enjoyable

Author: gkbazalo from Scottsdale, AZ
10 September 2004

I have watched this several times and enjoyed each viewing. It's a very early Kurosawa, apparently done on a shoestring of a budget. However, we can already see Kurosawa's talents in pacing and setting up shots. Kenichi Enomoto as the porter appears out of place at first with his over the top mannerisms and broad comedy, but he fits into the story and breaks up the slower pace of some of the scenes. For Kurosawa and samurai fans, I think this will be more than just a curiosity. This has an early appearance of Masayuki Mori (the murdered husband in Roshomon) and a fairly early appearance of Takashi Shimura (leader of the seven samurai). I recommend this for the usual suspects.

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17 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

WARNING - SPOILER!! Of interest to those who study samurai or Japanese history

Author: Dancing_Bear from United States
29 August 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kurosawa re-tells a famous incident which occurred in Japanese history around 1185 A.D. (I can't remember the exact date), Yoritomo and Yoshitsune were brothers who fought a common enemy, but after the enemy's defeat, Yoritomo turned on Yoshitsune and sought his death, creating a dragnet by setting up barriers and search parties all over Japan. Yoshitsune fled with a small band of loyal followers, including Benkei, a famous warrior monk. With much hardship, they made their way along hidden forest paths hoping to seek refuge with an ally, disguised as monks (Yoshitsune is eventually disguised as a porter). But they come upon a barrier guarded by Yoritomo's men, who have orders to execute suspect monks (three unlucky 'suspect monks' have already been executed at this barrier the day before), as the word is out that Yoshitsune is traveling in such disguise. Recounting a famous incident in samurai lore, when Yoshitsune (as a porter) comes under suspicion from an observant barrier attendee, Benkei immediately intervenes and tries to protect his lord from unmasking by beating Yoshitsune half to death with his famous rod and shouting "You always cause us trouble!", they are allowed to pass the barrier as it is inconceivable that any retainer would ever lay a hand on his lord, such an act would certainly be grounds for instant death. So of course, the porter couldn't be a lord, he must be just a regular porter. Over the objections of the barrier attendee, Togashi waves them through with safe passage. Apparently one of the ironic things about the entire story is that everyone in Japan knows that Yoshitsune passes this barrier only to be hunted down two years afterward and forced to commit suicide, while Benkei ends up much like El Cid, protecting his lord. It is said that in their dramatic last days, he rushed into the castle and shouted "All is lost!" and Yoshitsune asked Benkei to give him time to slay his wife and child and commit suicide. So Benkei agreed and went back outside to fight his losing battle and fend off the enemy as long as he could. His reputation was so fearsome that the enemy shot him full of arrows and he still stood ferociously, after a time the enemy approached him in trepidation and touched him, whereupon he toppled over and they discovered that he had been dead for awhile. So, like a scarecrow, he had guarded his lord and discharged his duties posthumously. I read somewhere that Togashi, the man who let him pass the barrier, knew exactly who he was, but was so much in sympathy after seeing what straits Benkei was driven to to protect his master, that Togashi let them pass anyway, possibly inferring that he would be required to commit suicide later, for letting them slip through his fingers. If so, this could explain why Togashi later sends sake to the group, it could be that when it is presented to the monks, Benkei also understands that Togashi knowingly let them pass and will be required to kill himself. He is in essence sharing a symbolic farewell drink, therefore he does drink to the dregs and appreciate the chance at life which was granted to them through Togashi's own self-sacrifice, so he sincerely drinks to Togashi. However, I must say that Susumu Fujita (as Togashi) looks so very sincere during all of this that I have a hard time believing that he indeed knew of the subterfuge, perhaps the sake was sent as a token of admiration and a kind gesture only. Like a lot of Kurosawa scenes, a great deal seems to be left to the viewer's interpretation. The story is famous culturally also because it is immortalized in a Kabuki play, The Subscription List, much of the treatment in this film appears to follow the Kabuki rendering of events (I have never seen the Kabuki play, but I read the synopsis, and it appears to have the same story-line. Costumes appear to be very similar, looks like mountain yamabushi, possibly Shugendo sect). The addition of the humorous comic is one difference, I don't know why Kurosawa put him in there, but one can get a sense of what appealed to Japanese people in 1945 as it is said that he was a well-known comedian. OK, end of spoiler.

p.s., don't watch a cheap Hong Kong knock-off of this video, get an original. The cheap Hong Kong version has awful sub-titles.

p.p.s. The real Benkei is said to be buried on the grounds of Chuson-ji temple.

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17 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

I love this movie!

10/10
Author: Vince_Barley from Orange County, California
24 April 2003

Akira Kurosawa was, well, a genius.

This early film is only further proof.

Before he made Rashomon, the Seven Samurai and Ran he made this and it's great.

The cast is fantastic. Kenichi Enomoto is especially great as the porter. That character is brilliant comic relief, which is especially evident in the scene where he attempts to dance.

Jason Biggs doing a stupid dance in American Pie is not funny. Kenichi Enomoto doing a stupid dance in Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi is.

The rest of the cast is great, too.

The characters are wonderful. There's of course the cowardly porter, and the clever character who, pretending to be a monk, has to think quickly and it's fun to watch.

Not only that, there is some very fine music and dialogue in this.

Only problem: Too short. . . but then again, I could say the same about the Seven Samurai and Ran. A great movie is always too short.

Highly recommended.

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11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Samurai film with no sword fights

10/10
Author: donelan-1 from United States
4 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The story of Benkei (the faithful retainer) and his lord Yohitsune is an old one, familiar to Japanese audiences from both the Kabuki and Noh theaters. The musical score reflects these sources. The most stylized scenes (inspired by the very refined Noh theater) are accompanied by the high-pitched whistlings and drum taps of Noh. The more athletic scenes have Kabuki inspired music, and the scenes where Kurosawa departs from Japanese tradition have Western music. What Kurosawa adds to the story is a lowlife character (a porter) played by Japan's most famous comedian. The porter serves as audience and a kind of Greek chorus, reacting to and commenting on the action. As a result, we see the story through the eyes of a common man.

Kurosawa used the same device (with variations) in many other films: the two peasants in The Hidden Fortress (which was a very similar story done with a much bigger budget); the Mifune character (a peasant pretending to be a samurai) in The Seven Samurai; the woodcutter in Rashomon; the inn keeper who gives shelter to the wandering samurai in Yojimbo; and (in one memorable scene) the captured soldier in Sanjuro. Not only does this device provide comic relief; it also puts the heroic deeds of the main characters in perspective, and connects them (with some irony) to the real world of everyday life.

The climax of Kurosawa's 1945 film is the confrontation between Benkei and Togashi (the samurai in charge of the border station). The conflict is psychological rather than physical, with Benkei acting the part of a Buddhist monk, and Togashi testing him on Buddhist doctrine. There is little doubt that Togashi knows who Benkei and his companions really are, but Togashi lets them go because Benkei wins the contest. Togashi can find no flaw in Benkei's performance.

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

allegory to japan's plight at the end of WW II

8/10
Author: cheese_cake from dc, usa
27 April 2007

The movie is seemingly based on an event from Japan's past, but it is really Kurosawa's allegory on Japan's condition at the end of World War Two. A prince, estranged from his brother, and six of his loyal retainers wander through the forest. They all look disheveled and hard up. They must cross a barrier manned by officials who are not exactly friendly to them, before they can move on to improving their life. The prince is disguised as a lowly porter and we rarely see his face. his retainers are warriors but are now forced to don monk's robes and indeed in passing through the barrier manned by the unfriendly forces (read American's) the lead monk must read a treatise in which peace is extolled as the reason for their existence. basically, the monks are Japanese elite, the porter is the Japanese public, the prince is the emperor, the barrier officials are the Americans, whose leader is wise and although he knows the truth allows the monks to live. They are many truths within truths here. Indeed, in the end the adviser to the emperor says, "we must move on (read from the feudal system) if we are to survive". a very fine movie, short yet poignant. one can easily see even in this early feature of his that Kurosawa is a master at symbolic imagery. By the way this movie was made in 1945, but not released in Japan until 1952. After watching it, I can see why it was delayed. It would have been extremely painful as a Japanese citizen to watch this in 1945, with their country in shambles around them. highly recommended.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Gives the Sensation that It Will Be Continued...

7/10
Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
5 April 2011

In 1185, the Seike family fights against the Minamoto family. After a bloody naval battle in the Pacific Ocean, Yoshitsune Minamoto (Shubo Nishina) defeats the enemy and the survivals commit suicide. When the triumphant Yoshitsune arrives in Kyoto, his brother, the Shogun Ioromoto, is lured and orders his men to arrest Yoshitsune. However, Yoshitsune escapes with six loyal samurais led by Benkei (Denjirô Ôkôchi) and they head to the country of his only friend Idehira Fukiwara.

Nearby the border, after crossing the forest disguised as monks, their smiley conveyor Suruga (Yoshio Kosugi) discloses that they are Yoshitsune and the six samurais and advises that the fearful Kagiwara and his soldiers are waiting for them in the border to arrest them. Yoshitsune disguises as a carrier and Benkei has to convince Kagiwara that they are six monks traveling to collect donation to build a large temple in Kyoto.

"Tora no o wo Fumu Otokotachi" is the third feature of Master Akira Kurosawa that shows his talent even with very limited budget. The acting is superb and Denjirô Ôkôchi performs a very wise samurai. Yoshio Kosugi is annoying and funny at the same time, with his chuckles. The conclusion is a little disappointing and gives the sensation that the story will be continued. The subtitles in the Brazilian DVD from Continental Distributor have synchronicity problems many times, and I had to use the rewind to read them. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Os Homens que Pisaram na Cauda do Tigre" ("The Men that Stepped on the Tail of the Tiger")

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Another feather in Kurosawa's cap...

10/10
Author: poe426 from USA
24 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

THE MEN WHO TREAD ON THE TIGER'S TAIL is an excellent example of why I consider Akira Kurosawa the greatest filmmaker of the 20th century: he was able to take a tale that in the hands of a lesser filmmaker would've been little more than a series of swordfights and transform it into a riveting drama. The interplay between the characters (from the early exchanges between the "monks" and the porter to the life-and-death wordplay between the "priest" and the border guard) are fraught with tension and suspense and Kurosawa manages to ratchet it up to an almost unbelievable degree. The unbroken stares- the understandings that become quite clear between the characters throughout this movie (but which are never blatantly blurted outright)- are the kinds of deft touches that one comes to expect from Kurosawa. The final scene in and of itself warrants comment: how many filmmakers would DARE make a samurai period piece without a single swordfight?

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Japanese Jackanapes

Author: tedg (tedg@FilmsFolded.com) from Virginia Beach
4 September 2010

I chose to watch this on the way home from a trip where Japanese heritage was central. I have saved this early Kurosawa for such a special occasion, knowing that it would be heavily stylized. I thought that would detract from the effect; surely that is what most commentors say.

Cinematically, this has the essential Kurosawa: layered staging, profound cosmic forces testing human resources and strong character extremes.

The central character is disowned royalty, determined to set things right. We see little of him, and not even his face until things are nearly over.

I believe that it is Kurosawa's intention that he be the watcher and motivator both. As our on screen surrogate, this places us as both the watcher and the governing truths. It is a very clever reversal of the tradition, strong even then and even in Japan. The reversal is overt: he/we displace a comic porter, a simpleton that in a slightly less modern story would be the watcher.

He does watch, but as the thing evolves, he becomes more and more a featured act. Coming at the beginning of Kurosawa's career, it is tempting to think of this as paired with "Ran," the fool of the beginning to the King Lear of the end. This fool is not wise, but he is present in a way that no one else is, allowing us to carry the film.

The "film within" in this case is an impromptu prospectus for a rebuilt temple. I know of no more dramatically effective sequence than this, witnessed by an honorable man who takes the blessing seriously, and a foppish villain who creeps around during the speech. These are the fundamentals. As time would go, he could work with something better than a two-layered sound stage, and more complex narratives than this simple vignette. But I think the soul and sound of this is every bit as good as his best.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The man who tread on the tigers' tails

Author: Carlos Mora from Ann Arbor, MI, United States
20 April 2011

This is a very intelligent movie, telling the story of two men who ride the tiger's tail out of loyalty and grace. The courage of one of them is explicitly portrayed in the film. It is the samurai Benkei who cleverly defends his lord at a very high personal risk. Benkei improvises an eloquent speech reading out of a blank scroll the prospectus for the temple when required to do so by the commander of the military outpost seeking to capture his master. Benkei uses logic to convince his comrades that it is not a good idea to fight the soldiers of the barrier. The samurai may kill all the soldiers this time but that will result in more soldiers and more persecution later on. Benkei uses a clever trick, to flog his master who is posing as a porter when the second-in-command suspects that the porter is the master they are trying to capture. Since a servant would never beat his master, the porter cannot be the master, reasons the top commander.

But more impressive than Benkei is the street-wise guy, the real porter played by Kenichi Enomoto, who joins the party of samurai in the forest. He treads on two tigers' tails. The first tiger is represented by the party of samurai. He is rejected by them, he is called a nobody, he is treated harshly, he is even threatened with death. He disappears at times but he returns to help the samurai who walk in the forest pretending to be itinerant priests. He collects information valuable to them and shares that information. And the second tiger is the military outpost who will surely kill him if they discover that the master is among the party of fake itinerant priests.

While Benkei does his heroic deeds in a ceremonial manner framed by rituals and high tension, the loquacious porter does his heroic deeds in a discreet, even awkward manner, without fanfare or rituals. His heroism is so discreet that even seasoned Kurosawa critics missed the point of the movie: natural, humble heroism offered not out of loyalty, but out of grace.

(The master of the party of samurai is such an obscure figure that out of respect to Kurosawa I have not even mentioned his name in my review)

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

"Don't try to be the hero; this equals going to Hell"

5/10
Author: ackstasis from Australia
13 September 2008

Perhaps it was too ambitious of me to sample one of Akira Kurosawa's earliest pictures, considering my extremely limited experience with his work {this would make only my fourth viewing from the director}. Often, delving into a well-known filmmaker's more obscure works is a job primarily for the aficionados and the completists, as they possess the knowledge to properly appreciate each film's importance in the development of the director's skills as an artist. Then again, perhaps being in the dark about Kurosawa's favourite themes and techniques gives me an opportunity to judge the film purely on its own individual merits, as though I'd been watching back in 1945. If this is the case, then I'm afraid that my assessment isn't entirely positive. 'Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945)' shows plenty of promise on occasion, but that it was filmed on a shoestring budget is instantly recognisable, and every technique in Kurosawa's film-making book seems so utterly workmanlike and uninspired that you can see where this film is going from the outset.

The film was adapted from an 1840 play, "Kanjinchō," by Gohei Namiki, which was itself based on the Noh play "Ataka," from an unknown playwright. Indeed, the film itself feels exactly like a play, unfolding almost entirely in four separate locations, decorated like simple stage sets, with actors delivering their lines as Kurosawa's camera idly sits around and watches. As opposed to films like Sidney Lumet's '12 Angry Men (1957),' which undoubtedly derived strength from their likeness to theatre, 'Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail' simply appears static, such that the narrative feels hardly to be moving along at all. This makes the brief 60 minute running-time seem much longer, and yet, paradoxically, the ill-developed story also feels truncated and incomplete. But there are strengths, of course: Kurosawa is able to develop some solid suspense in the battle-of-wills between Benkei (Denjirô Ôkôchi) and Togashi (Susumu Fujita), commander of the border guards. Takeo Ito also photographs some nice scenery, particularly the final shot of the Sun over the Japanese wilderness.

At least as far as the film's performances are concerned, Kurosawa's unevenness somehow works as a positive. Whereas every other character is relatively somber, excepting the occasional eruption of jolly laughter, the rubber-faced Porter (Kenichi Enomoto) positively exudes an extraordinary nervous energy. His hilariously-annoying cackle, exaggerated facial expressions and wide-eyed double-takes are at odds with everything else in the tone of Kurosawa's film, and yet his presence is indispensable. Denjirô Ôkôchi displays plenty of charisma as the apparent leader of the "monks," and, thankfully, the English subtitles meant that I didn't have to decipher his consistently-mumbled lines. At first, I found Kurosawa's choice of music – a selection of surprisingly merry and adventurous ballads – to be intrusive and out-of-place, but then I recognised their derivation from Western cinema, particularly the films of John Ford {whom Kurosawa ardently admired}, and I was better able to appreciate the tone that was being attempted. 'Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail' is certainly the weakest of the director's films I've seen to date, but might nonetheless warrant a rewatch somewhere down the track, when I'll know better.

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