The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

A bit slight, and by far the shortest Kurosawa film I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed it, but mostly in relation to what came after it.

Akira Kurosawa didn’t just make Samurai films, but he made a lot of them, and they are among his best known works.

This is the first one he made, written in one night and shot entirely on one set. I wouldn’t call it a complete success. The plot is a bit simplistic, and the action sometimes drags.

Still it’s a fun film, and it sets the stage for some of the greatest movies ever shot, which were all to come. You could say it provides an early look at where the artist was heading with their art.

In that sense, it’s more than worth watching, but it’s also a perfectly nice film all on its own.

Its main innovation from a content perspective is to add a bit of levity to a genre that was mostly known for being dead serious. Kurosawa adds a comic relief character, and by doing so he undercuts the intense historical drama. Without the relief this could all be a bit too stufy, and far too serious.

That he did it during World War Two is all the more impressive; the censors did not like this film. He showcases his interest in examining the history of Japan in ways that had previously been a bit taboo, by not assuming that it was all endless glory and honor.

In the films to come he will both glorify and deconstruct the archetypes that he’s just starting to feature in this film.

japan, 1945, 1.33:1, japanese