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Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, The (1945)
Genre: Period Samurai Adventure Drama (Japan)
Overview: A young Japanese lord attempts to flee the land of his murderous brother with the aid of six samurai disguised as monks.
As it was with Earth, some films are more important as prompts to learn about said film's context and history. In this regard, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is probably the most 'inspiring' thing I've seen since my immersion into film study over two years ago. Aside from my usual post-film study of the films themselves, I felt the need to learn more about Noh and Kabuki Theatre as well as on the history taking place in Japan in '45. For example, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail was banned by the occupying Allied Forces until the signing of a 1952 treaty of peace with Japan, as the film reinforced feudal values.
The reason, however, that I initially looked into the historical context of The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is simply because, as a film, it's awkward and foreign.
The first burning question I had was, "why is a three tone painted backdrop of a mountain range so completely inferior as to purposefully look like a crappy set?" I since learned that this film was originally a Kabuki and a Noh play, and I suspect that Kurosawa was honouring the original theatre this simple story was based on.
As storytelling is concerned, for as interesting as this tale seems at first glace - men disguised as monks planning on smuggling a lord through the border - it's not. The script is long, slow, and when the relevant action finally arrives, the trial of proofs the men face at the border, though entertaining, is filled with classic posturing and a preference of dramatic suspension of disbelief over logic. We begin with characters so thinly built around their archetypes as would be blown away in a mild breeze: the large one who would quickly resort to battle, the cowardly buffoon, the stoic and serene leader... yawn.
Add to this the out of place chorus narrative singing that is a signature of Noh Theatre and terribly done subtitles that butcher the English language, well it left me feeling that the best part of this film was its short 58 minutes.
Overall Rating: 48% (Do Not Walk On The Past)
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is mildly poetic and very clearly tributary to its theatrical roots - a style of filmmaking I have grown to despise. Yes, I knew my study of Kurosawa's earliest works would begin this way, and I made the best of it by learning more about its background. As for you, who has an inextinguishable desire to see all things Kurosawa, who has an iron stomach and the patience of an oak, this is short enough that you'd be missing out without seeing this... just a little.
As an added feature, I thought I'd link to Liverputty's review too, a blogger I just discovered. It filled me in on important things about this movie, namely the plot that constantly eluded me given the horrible languagin'...