77. Film Review #4: Akira Kurosawa: TORA NO O WO FUMU OTOKOTACHI (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) (1945) (Part One)

A detailed analysis of the above film. Part One.

TORA NO O WO FUMU OTOKOTACHI (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) (1945)

Up on intertitle, white letters on black background (no music, no sound):

"In 1185 the Heike clan perished in the Western Sea. The victorious Yoshitsune should have been parading through Kyoto...but the suspicious Shogun Yoritomo distrusted even his own brother...and was advised by retainer Kagetoki Kajiwara to try to kill Yoshitsune. With no place to hide in Japan, Yoshitsune took six retainers...dressed as monks and went to seek the aid of Hidehira Fujiwara. They were now about to pass a new barrier...like stepping on a tiger's tail."

Fade to black...

Music begins over the Toho logo. Title comes up: "Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail."

Credits continue against black background.

New (Noh) music as the scene opens in a forest of trees with mountains in the background. Singing is heard:

"Bells on traveling clothes Over the mountain pass."

The camera begins a gentle leftward pan. The singing continues:

"Bells on traveling clothes Over the mountain pass."

A dissolve ends the pan as we now look up at the sky from the base of a tree in the forest.

The camera dissolves four more times in similar views, then begins to pan down to forest level -- where we see a group of men hiking up the path...during this the song has continued:

"...Wringing out dew from the sleeves."

Cut to medium fixed shot, the group moving by, right to left. This view shows us four monks trudging up the path. The fifth person is a porter (Kenichi Enomoto) and is giggling, speaking to the monk in front of him, a huge, hulking man with a beard:

"Where are you from, sir? It seems like your first time around here. Where are you headed?" The man ignores him.

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) #1

The porter has moved up one spot and is talking to the monk directly in front of the bearded monk. He giggles:

"It's nice that the weather is good. This weather's rare. Look!" He stops, moving off the trail, and points: "The whole province of Kaga!"

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) #2

He is trying to strike up a conversation with yet another monk, Kataoka (Takashi Shimura). He points to his load.

"What's in this? It's very heavy. It's making me tired."

He stops and moves off the trail as the others pass him. He tries to speak with each man.

He falls into place behind the bearded monk he first tried to speak with, and begins to sing. The monk turns to the porter and yells:

"Silence. Follow me quietly."

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) #3

The porter is yawning and stretching. He bumps into the monk ahead of him as he is stretching, unaware that they have stopped. The man turns and glares at him. A nightingale chirps. The porter bows and rubs his head. The porter looks ahead to see why they stopped. The camera pans leftward up the trail, showing the other monks. Birds are chirping.

Cut to a close-up of Benkei (Denjiro Okochi) from behind, who laughs.

"The song of the nightingale, eh?"

Porter: "Around here, there are so many, you could eat them."

Hearty laughter from (as we cut to each briefly):

Five of the monks. The camera returns to the porter. He is trying to laugh, also. One of the monks, Kamei (Masayuki Mori) shouts at him:

"How much farther to the barrier?"

Porter: "Another mile, sir." Cut to the monk who asked the question, then Benkei. "Let's rest a while," he says.

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) #4

The porter is wiping his bare back. He gets dressed and walks to the left (camera follows), fanning himself. He is standing on some rocks just above the monks, seated on the ground...

He kneels on the rock, fanning himself. Pan down and to the left to reveal five monks and then back on the porter. He is dejected.

Cut to longer shot, from behind the porter, looking past him we see the monks. There is no sound other than the chirping of birds during this entire scene. The porter can't bear the silence. He begins to blather:

"You have quite a pair of legs," he begins to no one in particular. "I've always been proud of mine...but I can't keep up with you. He looks tired enough, though..."

Cut to a monk we haven't seen before, with delicate features, holding a twig with blossoms on it.

"He's not at all like you other gentlemen," observes the porter. "He looks like a girl."

With this, the monk nearest his seated position screams at him. He jumps back.

Kataoka: "This path certainly is difficult. Is there another route?"

Porter: "There is, but...we'll all be killed if the barrier officers see us. Two men were killed just the other day. It's such a problem. All because Lord Yoritomo listened to that Kaga something-or-other...and began fighting with Lord Yoshitsune, his own brother. The barriers were set up to catch the poor man. I guess when you're a Shogun, fighting with your brother is a big deal. But really -- [now begins a leftward pan which shows five monks with heads bowed as they listen to the porter. When we arrive on the fifth, the bearded monk, his eyes are closed in pain, he sighs deeply and blows his nose...] -- a fight between brothers could be settled with a punch or two. But, no -- hunting his brother like a beast! Poor Lord Yoshitsune! The famous leader of the Genji army is now a fugitive."

Cut back to the porter. His face betrays even the most minuscule emotional response. He is concerned, then smiling. He is standing on a rock, and pantomimes everything he says:

"There's no need to worry, though. They say he's got an amazingly strong bodyguard, Benkei. He's safe. Benkei is seven feet tall; a giant priest [he stands up and holds his fan above his head to indicate the height!]. He swings a one-ton iron rod! He annihilates armies of thousands single-handedly. Unbelievable! He can pull off a man's head like you'd pull up a daikon!"

Cut to Benkei, his back to us. He begins to laugh. Pan to the right past the other monks, also laughing, to the porter. laughing and fanning himself.

"I hear he's not very smart. They're traveling in disguise. But everyone knows it, even the barrier officers. Stupid, eh?"

Kataoka looks at the porter severely. "How are they disguised?"

Cut back to the porter. "Er...let me see...I heard one of the officers say they were dressed as...what was it? -- not peddlers; not pilgrims -- now I remember! Traveling monks!"

His eyes open wide and he puts his hand over his mouth as he realizes the truth.

Cut to the monks, staring. Cut back to the porter, hand on mouth, frightened, as he looks around at the monks. But he manages a forced smile.

Cut back to the serious monks; cut back to the porter, smiling.

"Isn't that funny?" Pause.

"They may suspect that you're the party of Yoshitsune and Benkei. Very funny, eh? Very funny."

His forced laugh changes to a look of concern only at the very tail of this shot; cut to the monks again. A bird chirps.

Cut back to porter, forcing a smile and a laugh.

"It can't be, can it? Can it? Don't try to scare me by looking at me like that! They know how many there are. A seven-man party headed by Yoshitsune...seven. (he begins to count the monks) One...two, three, four, five, six...seven" (he is nearly crying, his face scrunched up as he reaches the last number). He whimpers and hides his face behind his fan.

Cut to a longer shot of the whole group with the mountains in the background -- the monk with the "girlish" features has his back to us. Five of the monks face us, with the porter on the far right. Birds are chirping. The "girlish" monk, Yoshitsune, (Hanshiro Iwai) calls out:

"Benkei." Cut to the porter, who peers out from behind his fan, showing one eye.

"Benkei," Yoshitsune intones again. The porter peers over his fan, is terrified by what he sees, and then hides his entire face again.

Cut to medium close, behind Yoshitsune. Benkei moves into the frame and sits down in front of Yoshitsune. He bows. "My Lord."

Yoshitsune: "Did you hear what this porter said?" Benkei bows. Yoshitsune continues.

"Now it will be impossible to pass the barrier in this disguise."

The bearded monk rises and angrily says, "Why? There's only one small barrier, manned by a few guards. We can overpower them easily!"

Another rises. "It will be fun." Cut to another. "It will be good exercise after all this time."

Cut to Benkei.

"It would be easy to break through the barrier. But then, what will we do about the others? The road ahead is more important. We must try to pass this barrier as peacefully as possible. Moreover, no decision will have to be made unless they discover our real identities..."

Close up. He turns his head.

"In the first place, you are a real monk."

Quick cut to the bearded monk. Back to Benkei.

"You are not in disguise."

His head is turned back towards the others (camera is behind his head)...

"The others can pass as monks too."

Cut to two monks; cut back to Benkei...

"You don't look like impostors. If ascetic training in rugged mountains..." (the camera begins to turn to Benkei's face) "...would make one a real monk, then all of us have indeed become real monks." He looks around. "We have a complete set of monkish faces here."

He laughs, but quickly turns serious again.

"We may be able to pass safely."

Kataoka: "But Benkei -- we may be all right. But our Lord is visible even to the eyes of this stupid porter. We have to do something..."

(cut to) Benkei: "...about that. Porter! Come here!"

Cut to the porter, panicked and bowing. "I don't know a thing! Spare my life! I won't say a word!"

Benkei (off camera, laughing):

"Bring that box here." The porter is frozen with fear. The bearded monk moves to the porter:

"Stand up. Rise!"

He grabs the porter by his suspenders which come off in his hand as the porter falls back to the ground, still panicked with fear.

"He's frightened," understates the bearded monk. Close-up.

"How do you calm a frightened man?"

One of the monks answers him with an untranslated phrase. The bearded monk continues:

"He will recover if you frighten him even more." Cut to the previous medium shot.

"Get to your feet! Get up or I'll pull your head off!"

The porter finally rises. The monk laughs. Serious again, he turns to the porter:

"You're so troublesome." He points to the box, the object of Benkei's earlier request...follow the porter left as he carries the box to Benkei. He sets it down, turns the other way and runs.

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the right) #1

Some leaves and a tree. Suddenly, we see the porter, peeking out from behind the leaves. The camera moves in on his incredulous expression...

Cut to a long shot of the monks gathered together at the base of some tall trees. Cut to Yoshitsune, from behind. Another "Noh"-type song begins:

"The startling beauty of a crimson blossom...
is seen even in a garden laden with flowers."

The camera begins to pan around the other monks...

"Yet lesser blooms are overlooked, and weeds unnoticed." Yoshitsune rises...

"...and so, he removed his brocade coat..."

Here a magical dissolve where Yoshitsune appears to be slipping out of his sleeve which dissolves to this "coarser weave."

"...putting on the porter's coarser weave." Cut to bearded monk lifted up a porter's load...

"...And over it he bore the load that had been the least of his servant's." Benkei is walking towards the camera, the porter's large hat pointing into the camera...

...Cut to a different view of this point on the hat...the song continues:

"...He hid his face beneath a hat of common cloth..." The camera pulls back to reveal Yoshitsune under the hat, preparing the load for his back...

"...And leaned his burdened weight upon a porter's staff." Beautiful high overhead shot as Yoshitsune rises with his porter's load and the other monks bow to him. The song continues:

"...The sight of this spent, bending lord who never carried a load before..." The monks form their line to begin their trek, the bearded monk the last to fall in, bowing to Yoshitsune, who follows...

"...Is painful to look upon, and we must sigh with grief." Another very pretty dissolve on to the twig of the blossoms Yoshitsune had been carrying -- now lying on a log. A hand reaches down to take it. Pull back to reveal the porter in medium shot with mountains in the background. He looks at the blossom and rubs his mouth.

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) #5

The camera follows the monks as they trudge up the trail. As the last of them, Yoshitsune, heads up the trail we hear the laughter of the porter. He is back. It appears the bearded monk is speaking:

"His want of money outweighs his fear. If you're not careful what you say -- you'll suffer for it!"

The porter hastily retreats. Medium shot on the porter. He gestures.

"It's not that. I came because I couldn't stand to watch. He doesn't look like a porter at all. Anyone can see he's not."

The porter has found the courage to walk back to where Yoshitsune stands on the trail.

"First, that's no way to carry a load. You're no greedy old woman running off in the night..."

Bearded monk: "Silence!" And the porter runs off again.

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the right) #2

The camera tracks to the right as the monks trudge up the trail. The porter's giggle is heard. Close-up on bearded monk.

"You again?" he barks.

Porter: "I was worried, and I can't leave knowing who you are. I ought to see you over the barrier. I'm a man of honor. What hunter would hurt a bird seeking refuge in his very bosom?"

Bearded monk: "You talk big!"

Porter: "We're not enemies, after all. Let me help!"

Monk: "You're all right...in spite of your looks." He turns up towards the others: "What shall we do?"

The camera rests on one of the other monks and Kataoka, who look at each other. Kataoka speaks:

"We cannot ask a commoner for favors."

They turn to continue their march. Cut to bearded monk and porter. The monk turns to the porter. The porter speaks:

"So, I'm not good enough, eh?" The monk and Yoshitsune turn around and being to walk. The porter stays where he is, leaning against a tree, stroking his chin...

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) #6

The camera is on Benkei, but drops back to show the procession. It remains behind as the last, Yoshitsune, makes his way up the trail. Again we hear the porter's giggle. He appears, right center of frame...

"...Pest!" yells a monk. "Go away if you value your life!"

Porter: "But I found something out at the barrier."

The monks begin to chase him. Close on a cowering porter.

"Wait, you!" one yells. The monks gather around him.

Kamei: "What's this about the barrier?"

Porter: "It's worse than I thought. A messenger is there..."

The bearded monk says something untranslated.

Porter: "...And I heard him say that Yoshitsune's party must have taken this very road. So, the barrier-keeper is expecting you!" He smiles uncomfortably.

"Benkei," yell the monks, exiting and leaving only the stupefied porter in the frame...

They gather around Benkei. "What shall we do? Advance or retreat?" one of them asks.

Benkei turns and faces the camera. He is still. Kamei speaks:

"Now that our enemies have come this far, we are trapped, whatever we choose to do."

"We are trapped, so we must break through," says another.

"We won't spare anybody -- not even the general," says Kataoka.

"We will attack and kill them all," says another.

"Good idea," says another. "We will destroy everyone and everything before we kill ourselves."

They all break out in laughter. The porter joins them, laughing -- looks at Benkei (lightning quick cut to close-up of Benkei), and backs away, covering his ears. Benkei speaks, as the camera moves in close on him:

"You fools! I might overlook young warriors talking like this. But what's all this about? If bravery was the only factor, we'd have died several times already. As I told you just now, this barrier is not the last. The most important thing is our Lord's life. Bravery comes after that."

He laughs and turns. "Let us use this tactic (he begins to walk and speaks here with a strong, guttural, 'Noh'-type voice): We'll say we are traveling to solicit contributions for the building of the Todai Temple in Nara."

VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) #1

High above the barrier set. Beautiful, strange Noh music. The monks are seated, bowed, as Togashi (Susumu Fujita) makes his entrance, along with the Messenger (ShĂ´ji Kiyokawa).

Cut to Benkei and the other monks, at ground level, shot from right behind the stool upon which Togashi is about to sit.

Togashi sits. POV now shows him sitting with the Messenger behind him, standing, looking sinister. The Messenger sits.

POV behind Togashi, facing Benkei and the monks. Again on Togashi and the Messenger. They look around. Togashi speaks:

"I am the Magistrate of the Kaga Province. My name is Saemon Togashi. I was assigned to this barrier for one purpose."

Cut to reverse view, on Benkei. He speaks in his 'Noh' voice:

"We are traveling to solicit contributions for the building of the Todai Temple. We are to cover the northern district, and we wish to pass here."

Reverse angle on Togashi. "I respect pious deeds," he begins. "However, the order is that no monks will pass this barrier."

Benkei: "This is ridiculous indeed. May I ask you the reason why?"

"Seven men, headed by Lord Yoshitsune, are traveling disguised as monks. The General of Kamakura commanded me to keep this barrier after he became enemies with Yoshitsune."

Cut to Benkei, in profile: "This is indeed a nuisance." Cut back to Togashi. The Messenger reacts with anger. Benkei continues:

"I gather that you were only told to stop those disguised as monks. It cannot be an order
to stop all real monks who may pass here."

The Messenger rises. Close-up: "How insolent! ..."

Reaction shot of Togashi; back on Benkei, where the Messenger now stands and cracks his whip... "...especially coming from a seven-man party..."

Benkei: "Please be reasonable. Count us. Please. We are six traveling monks..."

Cut to a shot of the box with Yoshitsune on the right, as the porter enters frame left, smiling. He says:

"...and two porters!" Someone yells and a guard advances on the porter with a spear. His terrified expression amuses Togashi in the next cut -- a close-up on Togashi, who is smiling broadly. Cut to the porter, bowing low. Cut to Togashi:

"What a clown!" Long shot of the whole area. Everyone is laughing -- except the Messenger, swiveling around near the center of the frame...Close-up on him:

"No more arguments. So long as I am here to exercise my Lord's command, not even one shall ever pass. They look suspicious." He turns to Togashi. "Arrest them!"

Long hold on Togashi. Cut to the Messenger. He says something untranslated. He walks away. Cut to previous long shot. The Messenger to all the spear-carrying men:

"Why do you not act? It's the General's orders." He laughs. "It's all right to kill one or two of these 'monks' -- I order you to arrest them -- why do you hesitate?"

The men move in on the monks. Close on Benkei. He laughs.

"What kind of a place is this? It is preposterous to command, for no reason, the killing of disciples of Buddha." Pause. "However, quarreling is not good" Pause. "Very well, we have no alternative but to obey." He turns and the other monks all stand. "Let us offer our last prayer." Benkei moves towards a wall, and the camera moves behind the row of monks which moves in behind him.

Part Two