MEN WHO TREAD ON THE TIGER'S TAIL, THE (TORA NO O o FUMU OTOKOTACHI) (director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriter: based on the play "Kanjincho" by Gohei Namiki; cinematographer: Takeo Itô; editor: Toshio Goto; music: Tadashi Hattori; cast: Denjiro Okochi (Benkei), Susumu Fujita (Lord Togashi), Masayuki Mori (Kamei), Takashi Shimura (Kataoka), Kenichi Enomoto (Porter), Hanshiro Iwai (Yoshitune), Seji Kiyokawa (Togashi's Aide), Aritake Kono (Ise); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Motohiko Ito; The Criterion Collection; 1945-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

"A minor and obscure work by the acclaimed filmmaker."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

This early samurai tale from director Akira Kurosawa ("Ran"/Rashomon"/"Drunken Angel") is a minor and obscure work by the acclaimed filmmaker. It was done on the fly, arranged at the last minute when Kurosawa's plan to direct a big-budget costume picture called Doko Kono Yari fell through and he used the costumes and set for this pic. It's based on the 1840 play "Kanjincho" by Gohei Namiki (a popular Kabuki drama in the East, which was based on the Noh play "Ataka" from an anonymous playwright). It was made in 1945 but not released until 1953, as in the postwar-period the American censors didn't want to release a film from the feudal ages that many Japanese felt took liberties with "irreverencies" regarding traditions--it has a lord being whipped by his servant, which is a ruse but still could be found to be offensive by some.

In the 12th-century, the youthful Lord Yoshitune (Hanshiro Iwai) flees his dominion disguised first as an ascetic and then as a porter to escape his vengeful rival brother. The lord is accompanied by six bodyguards disguised as monks. Along the way they run into a playful porter (Kenichi Enomoto), who talks his way into tagging along. The bodyguards are led by Benkei (Denjiro Okochi), whose greatest challenge is getting through the barrier guarded by Lord Togashi (Susumu Fujita) and his army.

By seemingly glorifying the virtues of the feudal era, the Kabuki drama is actually mocking its blind obedience to the lords. The static uneven drama is nearly sunk by the hammy porter played by Enoken, a stage actor and longtime favorite of Kurosawa's, who is around for comic relief and hijacks the pic as a Stepin Fetchit clone.

REVIEWED ON 3/29/2010       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"