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

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WARNING - SPOILER!! Of interest to those who study samurai or Japanese history
Dancing_Bear29 August 2004
Warning: 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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Early Kurosawa is very enjoyable
gkbazalo10 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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Samurai film with no sword fights
donelan-14 September 2005
Warning: 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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allegory to japan's plight at the end of WW II
cheese_cake27 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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I love this movie!
Casey_Moriarty24 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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Gives the Sensation that It Will Be Continued...
Claudio Carvalho5 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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Another feather in Kurosawa's cap...
poe42624 March 2010
Warning: 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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Japanese Jackanapes
tedg4 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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"Don't try to be the hero; this equals going to Hell"
ackstasis13 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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Quiet Intensity
Hitchcoc23 March 2015
One can, for the first time, in my opinion, see what Kurosawa could do. He follow a group. of men trying to get through a checkpoint, disguised as priests. Their leader is disguised as a porter and therefore must dishonored to be protected. This is all part of a legend in ancient China and the audiences pretty much knew the story. Kurosawa provides comic relief with the true porter who is an unforgettable character. He is one of those pests that drives one crazy, yet he is so persistent in his efforts to be included. Apparently, historically, things don't bode well for the future but the standoff that occurs as they pretty much risk their lives to get through is quite breathtaking. There are incredible images of the landscape and the use of closeups is vibrant and sharp. The porter's dance at the end is terrific, against a bank of clouds, silhouetted against the sky.
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The man who tread on the tigers' tails
Carlos Mora20 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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Culturally conscious period drama
Patryk Czekaj27 December 2012
The film is not only based on an incident that happened in the 12th century, but also on the Noh play Ataka, and on the Kabuki play Kanjincho. Initially banned, the film was first released in 1952 and is the fourth film made by Akira Kurosawa. The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail focuses on the exemplification of true feudal values that ruled Japan starting in the Heian period. In order to understand the movie perfectly, one has to know what happened before the events depicted in the picture. Here's a brief presentation of the story: after winning a bloody Naval battle with the rival Heike clan, the triumphant lord Yoshitsune Minamoto returns to Kyoto in order to take command. However, his jealous and envious brother Shogun Yoritomo orders his men to arrest Yoshitsune and all his comrades. Due to a lucky circumstance, Yoshitsune and six of his loyal samurai retainers are able to escape. In order to be truly safe they need to travel through the country and find shelter in the home of an only friend, Idehira Fukiwara.

The movie starts when a group of monks traverses through a huge forest. Being accompanied by a silly yet truly helpful porter (Kenichi Enomoto), the group rests and decides to figure out a perfect plan. It's the first time the audience gets acquainted with all the characters, in order to realize that the monks are actually the lord (Hanshirô Iwai) and his samurai companions in disguise. They plan to march to the gate where the keepers await, and trick them into believing that they're actually a group of friendly monks gathering money to build a large temple in Kyoto. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers are already aware that a group of seven men is traveling through the country in such a disguise. With the help of the porter the men finally arrive and face the enemy, in what seems to be a tranquil, yet strangely intense, battle of nerves. Benkei (Denjirō Ōkōchi), a warrior monk, and Yoshitsune's most loyal friend, takes the stand and tries to persuade the watchful sentries of their faked mission. After a few moments of danger, just when the whole situation seems to be in shambles, Benkei once again shows his unmistakable intelligence and self-control. He proves that his skills and experience are masterful, leading to a successful ending to this dramatic story.

The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail is not Kurosawa's best, bust still a truly remarkable, detailed, and culturally conscious period drama, where the many ponderous Japanese virtues meet with an ostensibly stagnant atmosphere, all covered up in a package of truly minimalistic aspirations. Though short and not that interesting as many hope it would be, the film gives a fantastic glimpse at the rules that governed Japan in the 12th century, and presents a story, where wisdom and decisiveness are more valuable than bravery and prowess.
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A great exercise in adapting kabuki to film
otaking24124 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
So here's a little personal background: I played Benkei in a somewhat modernized version of Kanjinchou, the kabuki play that this film is based on. Using a DVD recording of a 1943 performance, the cast spent a month of rehearsal copying in excruciating detail every motion and intonation of the kabuki actors (we spent the next month taking it apart and rebuilding it). So watching this film was, for me, a really interesting experience.

First off, this film is very faithful to the kabuki. Its overall structure varies in some ways, but the story arc unfolds very similarly and many of the lines are taken directly from the original. I was really pleased that so much was kept in. While there have been many successful adaptations of kabuki to film in the past (Chushingura, Yotsuya Kaidan etc.), Kanjinchou doesn't really lend itself to this. The story is laughably brief, there's almost no action, and the play as a whole is really designed as a chance for the actor playing Benkei to strut his stuff.

Other kabuki adaptations generally take just the story, but in this case Kurosawa has incorporated several aspects of kabuki performance in interesting ways. Using the 'nagauta' background singing to tell parts of the story is one, another the drum beats that come up occasionally. It might have been nice if these elements were applied more rigorously, but they're appreciated where they are put in.

As others have noted, there's no real fighting or most of the things that people expect from samurai films. The interest stems from the tension in the relations between the three main characters: Benkei, the tower of strength and sworn to protect the noble and effete Yoshitsune (yes, there's some romance implied) squaring off against Togashi, learned and embodying samurai virtue. Kurosawa sparingly uses cinematographic techniques to heighten this drama in some scenes.

Where Kurosawa makes changes is primarily increasing the role of ancillary characters in the film. I felt like this was a little unfortunate as it lessens the gravity of the relationship between Togashi and Benkei, whose clash of wits is at the heart of the play. The addition of the porter character is well considered where he seems to play the audience. However in other scenes he takes over Benkei's more seemingly silly acts (like the dance), which I think detracted from the dimensionality of that character: compared to the kabuki, the film's Benkei is almost depressingly unemotional.

Overall the film probably will be disappointing to those wishing to see another 'Seven Samurai' or 'Yojimbo.' This is a very different sort of film, and I think probably takes some background reading to really appreciate. As a final note, I think it's misleading to try to read the film as WWII allegory. While the timing of its creation begs this sort of inquiry, this is a fairly straight adaptation of the original. That it was banned by the GHQ shouldn't be surprising: nearly everything set in the feudal period was seen to embody some sort of imperialistic values and was suppressed.
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beautiful and funny.
sergeantplivko-110 November 2005
If you like beautiful Japanese landscapes, the culture of ancient japan and damn funny faces, watch that movie.

This movie belongs to my all time favorites. Made me feel like a time travel to ancient japan. The actors are extraordinary, you believe them when they talk and you can laugh about them enough. A porter which plays the role of the clown in the movie has tragic moments too, he wants to help the samurais out, but they don't take him serious. Every scene is brilliantly acted and deserves more views than once. I watched it over and over again. Maybe because it was my first Akira Kurosawa movie.

Thank you.
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Kurosawa's Themes Emerge
yippeiokiyay3 April 2006
Kurosawa's film "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" (alternate titles exist) brings to the screen many of the themes the master director will explore fulsomely in later films. This early piece is charming, particularly rewarding for fans of classic Japanese film.

Some of the themes introduced are: Hidden/obscured identity: The Prince who poses as a porter prefigures (inversely), the great Tatsuya Nakadai role of the thief who poses as an emperor in "Kagemusha".

Comedic relief: The "real" porter of "Tiger's Tail", played by the comedian Enoken (hugely popular in the libertine Asakusa district of Tokyo during the war and early post-war period) prefigures the use of a similar comic figure in Kurosawa's last great period film: "Ran" in which "Peter" plays the fool for comic relief, and ultimately, pathos. Double your pleasure and double your fun with the two peasant figures in "The Hidden Fortress"! Japanese Culture: Kurosawa will dip into this well often, and bring something wonderful to the screen. "Throne of Blood" references Noh masks and performance, "Tiger's Tail" references Kabuki.

In summation, then, this film is valuable for itself, and for the indications of Kurosawa's future directions and interests in film. Recommended to the general viewer, and most highly recommended for those who appreciate classic Japanese films. For Kurosawa buffs, essential viewing.
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Was that it?
Michael_Cronin10 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Very well done, but "The Men Who Step On The Tiger's Tale" feels like the first act of a larger film, not a complete film in itself.

It follows a party of samurai escorting a fugitive prince through enemy territory, accompanied by a clueless servant (echoing Kurosawa's later masterpiece, "The Hidden Fortress"). They come to a border crossing, are interrogated by the magistrate, convince him that they are actually a party of monks, & are allowed to proceed. Shortly after, a group of soldiers catch up to them & offer them a drink & apologies from the magistrate. They drink, get quite drunk, then the next thing we see is the servant waking up, deserted by both groups.

The end.

I had to check my copy of the film, log on here to check the running time & read several reviews to make sure that there wasn't some kind of mistake. No mistake, that's all there is. Were the samurai taken into custody while they were drunk? Were they spirits? Was the servant hallucinating or dreaming? I'm sure there's a reason for the film ending so abruptly, but it was ultimately a very unsatisfying experience. At the point it ended, I was ready for another encounter with danger, then perhaps another, followed by the party's escape, or capture & subsequent death. But no, it's the end.

Recommended for Kurosawa fans & those interested in Kabuki theatre only.
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Quirky, sometimes quite funny movie with glimpses of the future genius
Charles Herold (cherold)22 August 2017
A Distinctly odd movie, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is a mix of broad comedy and somewhat static drama that foreshadows some of Kurosawa's themes and styles but is ultimately undone by poor pacing.

The movie plays out like a three-act play (I had guessed it was from a play when I watched it, and it is). The first act is easily the best, as a noble and his minions try to sneak through the forest with a porter for a guide.

This scene is mainly focused on the rubber-faced Ken'ichi Enomoto as the porter. He is very funny in a Jerry-Lewis way, and his lively over- emoting keeps things interesting.

The second act feels much, much longer, either because it is or because it's so dull. The movie has trouble keeping up the tension, and due to that has equal difficulty keeping my attention.

The third act is very peculiar, because basically the story is over and there's nothing to do. Does this have something to do with the structure of traditional Japanese theater? Maybe. But for me it seemed utterly pointless.

While I only really enjoyed the first act, the movie certainly shows off a lot of what made Kurosawa so great. There is that great sense of period and nature, acting that is forceful and direct, humor and drama. He would do much better than this, but if you're a fan, this is certainly worth seeing. Even if you're not a fan, it's worth watching if you want to see a Japanese guy doing Jerry Lewis before there was a Jerry Lewis.
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Warmed Over Noh Play Posing As A Poorly Executed Movie.
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed on DVD. Score = seven (7) stars; cinematography = barely five (5) stars; restoration = four (4) stars; script = four (4) stars. Director Akira Kurosawa (who also wrote the movie script, but not the play) presents a less-than-successful mash up of stage play and motion picture. This slice-of-life or existential play/movie has no beginning (unless you count the extensive lead-in expository text and singing which is essentially a filmed version of a play's program notes) or end with not much happening in between. The title (mentioned in the expository text) may be semi historical, but does not make much/any sense for the name of the play/movie. Fleeting mature acting is all but buried (or blown up) by the juvenile antics of comedian Motohiko Itou who Kurosawa allows to run roughshod over the play/movie. (This character seems to be a fugitive from a Saturday-morning TV show for three-year old's.) Itou's performance is not only a self caricature, but gives a vast new meaning to the word "ludicrous." (His persistent performance soon becomes extremely painful to watch!) The pace of the play/movie is slow and the result is boring. Kurosawa's focus is on talking heads with almost zero physical action. A major reediting seems to be in order to both shorten the play/movie and remove 90 percent of Itou's "bolt-on" embarrassing performance. Phony studio "exterior" sets look OK for a play, but are a distraction for a movie with set decoration dominated by poorly painted canvas. Cinematography (narrow screen, black and white) is OK. Score and subtitles are fine. Restoration has a way to go (but may not be worth further investment for such an inferior film). Wear marks, dirt artifacts, and frame shrinkage occur throughout the film. Not recommended even for the most fanatical of Kurosawa fans! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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An interesting early work by one of history's great directors
William Samuel6 January 2015
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, adapted from the kabuki play Kanjinchō, tells the tale of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a feudal lord who must flee his lands with his most loyal retainers disguised as a party of itinerant monks. It is a simple film, with a straightforward plot, only a handful of characters, and a feel more akin to a filmed stage play than major studio production. Its running time, including credits, comes in at just under an hour.

Yet it has an endearing minimalist charm to it that. The story may be simple, but it is nonetheless compelling, with more than hint of danger and important lessons about friendship and honor. It is well acted, especially the part in which one of the retinue must bluff his way past the guards by reciting a history of their order from memory. The comic relief, provided by the group's porter, is also quite good, and the villain is convincingly dislikable.

I admit that this is not a particularly exciting film, nor a visually impressive one. The handful of sets are sparse, and only occasionally is there anything in the way of action. I also confess that western viewers unfamiliar with the art of kabuki (such as myself) will likely miss a great deal of subtext. It is by no means the kind of masterpiece that the director, Kurosawa, would later go on to film, but it is engaging in its own way. The average American audience may not find much here, but those familiar with Japanese culture and arts should find much to enjoy.
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Before there was "The Hidden Fortress"...
Dustin Dye18 May 2013
Before directing "The Hidden Fortress," which would go on to inspire "Star Wars," Akira Kurosawa directed a different tale of royalty escaping through enemy lines in "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail."

The story is set against a historical background in the late Heian period of Japan. Yoshitsune has had a falling out with his brother, Yoritomo, the shogun (generalissimo). Fearing for his life, Yoshitsune and his loyal retainers, led by Benkei, and their unsuspecting porter are attempting to flee to the north disguised as priests. They come to an obstacle when they find their path is barricaded by Yoritomo's forces, led by Togashi (Susumu Fujita). Being hopelessly outnumbered, the men must rely on their wits, rather than violence, to pass the barrier.

Even though there is no violence in this samurai film, the movie is filled with suspense, thanks largely to the strength of the script and Kurosawa's direction. The movie is an enlightening portrayal of extreme Japanese values. These values can be seen in the contrast between the samurai and the porter. Yoshitsune's retainers are stoic and intensely loyal to their lord. The porter is foolish and speaks with a loose tongue. In their behavior, the samurai and the retainer are keeping in line with the expectations of their respective castes. While the samurai are the highest class in the feudal system, their status comes with expectations of strict piety. Even though the porter is limited in his social mobility, he is not held to the same standards as the samurai.

Filmed in 1945, "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" was banned by the Occupying Forces for its portrayal of feudal values. The movie was finally released in 1952, after sovereignty was returned to Japan.

This film has multiple parallels with Kurosawa's later epic, "The Hidden Fortress." Both are about samurai sneaking through enemy lines. Both use porters as comic relief. The princess in "The Hidden Fortress" and Yoshitsune in "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" both have to wear a disguise to hide their high breeding.

At 59 minutes, this is a short movie. It feels like one act of a longer film. Kenichi Enomoto, a famous comedian at the time, provides welcome comic relief as the porter. But his performance is a bit over-the-top, and seems a bit more suited for another film. The way the samurai interact with him, however, provides a humanizing effect on the characters.

"The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" is an early gem in Kurosawa's catalog.
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Just something interesting about one of the actors.
donnabarr24 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This MAY be a spoiler, because of an actor's appearance.

Go to Youtube and search: "(01)Victory at Sea "The Pacific Boils Over" Episode 2 1of3"

Go in to 5.59 minutes.

You'll see our noble border-keeper in his crisp Japanese artillery uniform. Looking his same calm, mildly amused self.

He served in the artillery during World War Two. A few seconds later, another shot shows him again.

He has the proper military bearing in the movie, and his time in service no doubt contributes to its authenticity.
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A very good film
Luis Angel Gonzalez27 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Here we have an early and very underrated film by one of the most acclaimed Japanese directors: Akira Kurosawa. The whole film is a joy from beginning to end, packed with some nice Japanese humor brought by Japanese actor Kenichi Enomoto, whose acting might tend to be overacted, but one can't help but laugh at those facial expressions he pulls off.

The story concerns Yoshitsune, a Japanese general and six men guarding him, who need to cross the border to avoid being caught by one of his enemies. So as to go unnoticed, their men decide to impersonate monks (although one of them was one for real), and their general would disguise as a porter, borrowing a box porters tend to carry (or ,actually, taking it by force) from one porter (Kenichi Enomoto) they encountered on their path. The porter briefly joins the crew and accompanies them. When they finally get near the border, they are halted by the border patrol, due to orders they had received that stated no monks should pass, as it had been rumored Yoshitsune and his men were disguised as monks. There is where the biggest climax of the film is, when they have to prove they are actual monks.

The acting is extraordinarily realistic (with the exception of Kenichi Enomoto); it has that real feeling of the old Japan. Probably the character that most stands out is Benkei, enacted by a not very well known Japanese actor: Denjiro Okochi. The determination he demonstrates as a monk is praiseworthy. Another actor that stands out is Kenichi Enomoto, another unknown Japanese actor. As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, he is the one in charge of bringing a brighter side in the film, acting as a foolish, fearful and humble porter who firstly comes across Yoshitsune and his men without knowing who they really are. Takashi Shimura, who would take better roles in later films by Kurosawa, does make his appearance on the film, but he does not stand out at all, nor does he have an important role.

The camera-work is perfect to the portrayal of the story, very slow-moving and it adapts to the settings. There's not really much worth mentioning about it, but Kurosawa's touch is already present.

The film is really recommendable, probably one of the most appealing from Kurosawa's early works. The only problem with it is that it is too short, or maybe that's its biggest strength, in that you do not lose interest at all because everything fits perfectly and there are no boring scenes.

My score: 9.2/10
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Curious, Good, Not Very Long
crossbow01064 September 2011
This film is just less than an hour long and tells a simple tale about a warrior with his six followers (one is a "driver" who almost reminds me of a Japanese Stan Laurel) and their quest to move on. They disguise themselves as monks. The film is set in the year 1195. The second half of the film is better, where they have to prove to others that they indeed are monks. The tension, including facing otherwise certain death, is extremely well done. I labeled the film curious due to its simplicity in telling the story. Kurosawa is rarely this straightforward, usually there are interesting twists and turns. That said, this watchable, there is a little comic relief, but it is not A list Kurosawa. Thats fine in and of itself.
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Unique, beautiful un-Hollywood masterpiece
frankfar14 January 2011
This film is a thrilling, stylized tale of courage, loyalty, and the human comedy. It's not necessary to reveal details of the plot other than to say it involves a band of loyal retainers escorting their master to safety after a coup, with a lot of quick-witted verbal ju-jitsu. It's every bit as satisfying on the third viewing as the first. The writing is both profound and funny. Among its many delights are the very Japanese, sing-song style of speech by Denjirô Ôkôchi as "Benkei," and the comic relief of Kenichi Enomoto, the porter. It's also an early version of the "Seven Samurai" conceit of the samurais and the buffoon who wins them over. Interestingly (for academic reasons), Kurosawa and Shintaro Katsu teamed up in 1970 to make "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo." I haven't seen it yet but the Zatoichi films, while enjoyable, are nowhere near as artful or provocative as Yojimbo or anything by Kurosawa. With Zatoichi, see one, you've seen 'em all. I highly recommend this beautiful and satisfying masterpiece of serious filmmaking.
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Stagey and short !
sharptongue10 August 2001
Quite different from many of Kurosawa's other films on a number of points. Firstly, this one is very short - just under 60 minutes. The film is shot on only three or four stage sets, including painted backdrops. Perhaps wartime funding restrictions really bit this time !

Not very much happens in this film. A group of swordsmen are travelling to protect a fugitive nobleman , and are discovered by a rubber-faced coward with a very big mouth. The group travel to a border checkpoint, use trickery to convince the borderguard chief that they are really buddhist monks on a pilgrimage, and enter the territory. The end.

The only aspect of this film which I found entertaining was Endoken. This guy's rubbery face is just incredible to watch. He seems to be expressing all the feelings which all the other characters mostly suppress (they're a pretty serious lot, apart from occasional gales of laughter). This guy could have taught Rowan Atkinson all he knows.

Curiosity or completion value only.
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