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

men who tread on the tigers tail poster 1945 movie akira kurosawa
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Short but sweet

Could be expanded

Movie Info

Movie Name:   The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

Studio:   Toho

Genre(s):   Drama

Release Date(s):   April 24, 1952 (Japan)

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

men who tread on the tigers tail traveling party akira kurosawa

So…headed to a border?

Yoshitsune Minamoto (Iwai Hanshirō X) has been targeted for death by his brother Yoritomo.  In a desperate attempt to escape to an ally Hidehira Fujiwara, Yoshitsune and six retainers are trying to reach the border with the help of a simple porter (Ken’ichi Enomoto) while posing as priests.  When the group finds the border is enforced even greater than they expected.  Facing an inquisition, crossing the border might be impossible!

Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (虎の尾を踏む男達 or Tora no O o Fumu Otokotachi which translates as They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail) is a historical drama.  The film is based on the 1840 kabuki play Kanjinchō by Namiki Gohei III which was based on the old text Ataka by Noh.  Following Sanshiro Sugata Part II also in 1945, the film was initially banned in Japan due to the expression of feudal beliefs and wasn’t released officially until 1952.  The Criterion Collection released the movie under the Eclipse imprint as part of The First Films of Akira Kurosawa (Eclipse Series #23).

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail was in production when Japan surrendered in World War II.  The short running length of the film (just less than an hour) means it is a quick watch and Akira Kurosawa said it was only written in a day.  Despite this, the movie has a lot of aspects that made Akira Kurosawa famous.

men who tread on the tigers tail denjiro okochi susumu fujita

These aren’t the priests you are looking for…

The story is tight and doesn’t waste much time.  It has a very long written set-up (which today would have been acted out and shown) and the movie breaks down into three parts.  The first part kind of introduces the retainers and the porter, it then leads to best part of the film and that is the attempt to trick the border guards into letting them cross.  It becomes very suspenseful and manages to keep the suspense up.  The third part is a short epilogue sequence.  The movie does all this in spite of a short running time.

The only thing lost in the short running time is that there is very little character development.  A couple of the porters are distinguished through the story, but for the most part the only characters that jump out of the movie are Minamoto who is silent most of the film, the inquisitor played by Susumu Fujita, and the retainer played by Denjirō Ōkōchi whose quick actions save them all…the movie feels more like a showcase for Ken’ichi Enomoto who gets to ham up his role as the porter.

men who tread on the tigers tail kenichi enomoto dance

Let’s dance!

The movie visually is also very basic.  It is just a few simple sets and they work for the story.  Akira Kurosawa proves that you don’t always have to make everything a spectacle to work and this movie is a good reminder of that.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail is a short film that is easy to watch and enjoy.  Honestly, though remakes are often looked down upon and touching the work of someone like Akira Kurosawa is blasphemy, I could see a solid remake of this story working today…a cross between an action-drama and a heist film.  The makers however would probably go over the top and ruin the natural feel of the story to do it, but I can see them trying.  Akira Kurosawa followed The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail with No Regrets from Our Youth in 1946.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response