Monday, February 18, 2008

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

A detailed analysis of the above film. Part Two.

Cut to a medium shot from above on Benkei, and the other monks in a semi-circle behind him, "praying." They rub beads (in beautiful unison) and bow. They put their hands together and Benkei begins, in his priestly voice:

"I call Aryacalanatha, the God of Fire, to witness our sincerity -- in the name of the Avatar of Kumano...may heavenly punishment visit us at once, should our pledge be false..." Pause. The camera pans to the right as Benkei continues his mumblings, on Togashi and the Messenger.

New POV behind Togashi -- the monks are rubbing their beads again. They bow. They are finished. Benkei rises, turns, and walks over to Togashi.

"Let me be the first to be bound," he says, sitting in front of Togashi. Cut to Togashi and Messenger. Togashi is smiling. "I admire your resolution. No one but a priest would have such resignation." He turns...

Cut to the porter. He rolls his eyes, in relief. "However..." continues Togashi, off-camera. The porter is startled.

Cut to Benkei's reaction -- Togashi still speaking: "...you've said that you're soliciting for rebuilding of Todai Temple. Then you must have the prospectus." Benkei's head turns slightly. Togashi continues: "...let me hear you read it!"

Benkei's head turns a bit more. "You want me to read the prospectus?" he asks, buying time...

Togashi: "I do." Benkei looks at the porter. "Porter."

Cut to porter, startled. Back to Benkei. "Bring that box here." Cut to porter -- eyes wide open. He points to the box and shakes his head. Medium-long shot of porter getting the box, with spears pointed at him on the left...he eyes them nervously and carries the box out of frame to the right...the camera moves from the five monks to the two officers, back to the monks, back to the officers and then begins to pan left. When the camera stops, the frame is typical Kurosawa geometry. The porter is on the left -- unwrapping what is tied to the top of the box, which is in the center, and Benkei fills the right of the frame...
The porter removes what was on top, looks nervously from left to right, and opens the lid of the box.

Cut to an overhead shot of the contents of the box, which contains a helmet, and possibly part of a uniform which, I would imagine, belongs to Lord Yoshitsune. Benkei removes a scroll.

Cut to the porter, guilty-looking, who quickly shuts the lid. He looks around jerkily, and smiles a big, false smile when his gaze meets that of Togashi.

Cut to Togashi, calm, eyes shifting. [Susumu Fujita, one of my favorite Kurosawa actors, brings off an important emotional message in this short cut, which is, by all accounts, absolutely crucial to the interpretation of this traditional, and widely-known, Japanese story...I'll take a moment to quote DR...]

"Apparently Kurosawa shares the belief entertained in some Kabuki circles that the really interesting character in Kanjincho [one of the stories upon which the film is based...] is the barrier-captain, Togashi. This is a touchy point in the Kabuki and different actors play it differently. Did he truly know that it was Yoshitsune? Therefore, knowing, does he allow him to escape? This is the one psychologically interesting explanation, but for years a controversy has been raging in the Kabuki as to just how the role should be interpreted. Kurosawa had no such doubts. For one thing, this is the only interesting explanation of Togashi; for another he has since Sugata had an especial fondness for his villains. Yet, his conception of Togashi does not stop there -- he creates one of his most interesting and most enigmatic film characters. The part was given to Susumu Fujita (the young hero of Sugata) who was youthful, boyish, athletic -- indeed, just the opposite of the usual Kabuki actor. Since Fujita was far too young to play the part (the opposing Okochi was twice as old), there is something very disarming about his intelligent silences, his obvious self-command. He is a bit like the youth-leader of the boy-scout samurai in Sanjuro..." [DR, p. 32]

The porter looks around, bug-eyed, and finally grabs the box and begins to retreat. Again, the sword-carriers scare him, as he scurries towards the rear. He finally sets down the box in front of a row of monks. The camera pulls back a bit. Benkei is unrolling the scroll.

Cut to Yoshitsune, near the spear-carriers, under his wide hat -- the camera moves closer.

Cut to Benkei, preparing to read from the scroll. He holds it up. The porter's eyes open wide.

Cut to POV over Benkei's shoulder, where we now see an empty scroll.

Cut to the porter, who is blinking rapidly. He stares again, bug-eyed. The camera moves in on the blank scroll, and begins a pan to the right. Benkei begins his improvisation:

"Ye pious followers..."

Cut to the monks and, starting on the bearded monk, a rightward pan...

"...We deem that the autumnal moon of the Enlightened..."

Cut to Benkei, looking intensely at the blank scroll...

"...has eternally been hidden in the clouds of Nirvana. Mortals are indulging in the transient pleasures of this life..."

Cut to Togashi, listening carefully...

"...with no one to surprise them into awakening."

Cut back to Benkei. He closes his eyes as he reads: "...There lived an Emperor around the middle of our history..."

Cut to Togashi; back to Benkei.

"...whose faith in the doctrine of Buddha made him very benevolent to his subjects..."

Cut to Togashi. The history lesson is putting him to sleep.

Cut back to Benkei. "He happened to have an inspired dream..."

Cut to Togashi, eyes closed. The Messenger moves over to his left. Benkei continues:

"...And in order to pray for the peace and welfare of his people..." The Messenger is whispering in Togashi's ear --

Cut to the porter, seeing this and reacting...

Cut back to Togashi and Messenger...

"...he fashioned a great image of Buddha and built a temple to shelter it..."

Cut to porter, looking panicked.

Cut to a medium shot from behind Benkei, looking at Togashi and Messenger...

"...Unfortunately, this temple was destroyed during the turbulent era of Jisho..." The Messenger begins to walk towards Benkei -- the porter reacts;

Cut to Messenger; cut to porter...

"...Our reigning Emperor deeply regrets its destruction..." The porter is now trying to get the attention of the monks because the Messenger is creeping closer and closer to Benkei and the blank scroll...

"...By the Imperial Command, we are recreating this Temple of Temples...by soliciting contributions from all parts of this Empire..." Cut to Messenger, cut to Kamei, cut to Kataoka, cut to another monk who reaches for his sword, a hand restrains him; cut to the bearded monk, worried; cut to another monk...

"...Those who participate, however small the amount may be..." The bearded monk begins to rise; is restrained; cut to Togashi, looking around...

"...will thus enjoy virtuous pleasures in this life..." Cut to the blank scroll, as seen from Togashi's perspective (it looks white and blank)...cut to Togashi, cut to Messenger; cut back to Togashi, who looks towards Benkei, then the Messenger...

"...not to mention the privilege of finding a seat among the thousands of sacred lotus-flowers..." Cut to Messenger, cut to the view of the scroll again; cut to the Messenger; cut to the scroll view, now very close, and Benkei drops the right spool of the scroll and concludes loudly:

"Buddha help all sinners!" as the camera comes in close...

Very quick cut to a startled Messenger; cut to Togashi, medium shot; quick close-up; cut to Benkei:

"...We reverently beseech you, ye pious..." he concludes.

Cut to a relieved porter; back on Benkei as he begins to roll up the scroll.

Cut to Togashi who rises. He motions twice and his troops move back and disperse.

Cut to a nice long shot of Benkei and Togashi facing each other, the Messenger in the far right center of the frame. Togashi begins:

"That was indeed genuine. However, let me ask you a few questions. Orders wear various robes -- but none so peculiar as you traveling monks. What is the reason?"

Benkei: "I'm amazed at your ignorance. As the manners of training differ, so do the guises of all sects. Our aim is the attainment of both Wisdom and Rigidity. So, we cross steep mountains and passes, destroying snakes and evil animals to help humanity. We attend to morals and ethics, praying for the peace and welfare of our land. Therefore, inwardly we are forgiving and merciful, but outwardly we militantly combat evil."

Togashi: "Why do you wear the peaking cap on your heads?"

Benkei: "They are our helmets as soldiers. The robe we wear corresponds to a suit of armor."

"Your long stick?"

"It is based on the staff of Arada Kalema, a hermit of Dantaloka in Sindhu. It helps us to clear the wilderness in our austerities in attaining Truth, and to punish sinners."

"Your sword?"

"Amidabha's."

"Now, you may cut material things, but what about immaterial evils?"

"We break them by the Spell of the Nine Words."

"What is it?" Close on Benkei.

"What we call the Spell of the Nine Words consists of..." At this point, he puts his hands together with beads and holds his hands in front of his face, subdividing it.

"...these nine words: Ron, Pyo, To, Sha, Kai, Jin, Zai, Retsu, Zen..." He drops his hands.

"...When one makes this Spell..."

POV behind Togashi's shoulder, looking at Benkei: "...he reverently stands and clenches his teeth thirty-six times..." He pulls his hands (and the beads) to his mouth and makes such a motion.

"...Then with the thumb of his right hand..." He holds up his thumb -- "...he draws four horizontal lines, five vertical ones..."

Now some rapid-fire cutting: Quick close-ups on:

Benkei, Togashi, the porter, Kamei, Kataoka, two other monks, the bearded monk, the Messenger and Togashi...

During this he continues his explanation, shouting: "...and then shouts: Obey promptly!"

POV behind Togashi again, as Benkei finishes the ritual with some bizarre hand-wringing and grunting noises. He stares at Togashi:

"...All kinds of devils, apparitions and heathens will immediately be delivered from evil." He brings his hands together with two fingers touching, and looks at Togashi with one eye barely open in a priestly trance-state.

Cut to Togashi. Cut back to Benkei; back to Togashi, back to Benkei (the music is building up...), who finally puts his hands down at his side (new POV, a medium side shot -- Benkei and Togashi, with the Imperial imprint on the wall between them)...and Benkei continues:

"...If you desire to know more about our sect, I'll be happy to inform you."

Togashi: "Oh, I have nothing else to ask you." They both sit, Benkei on the ground, Togashi on his stool. "Judging from the way you have replied, you must be a distinguished teacher..."

Cut to the Messenger, obviously not convinced. Togashi continues:

"...My suspicion of you is the greatest error of my life. As a gesture of apology, I will make a contribution to your campaign..."

Cut back Benkei and Togashi. "How commendable," replies Benkei. "I assure you of pleasure in both existences..." Togashi waves his stick:

"Prepare an offering!"

Benkei: "Wait! We are on our way to the northern districts, but we will be back by mid-April. Please keep your offering until then."

Togashi: "Understood."

"We have wasted too much time. We will be on our way." He rises. He turns to face his men, and you can just see the relief on his face (great acting by Okochi). His men bow to him. They all turn to pick up their loads.

Cut to the porter, doing the same, panicked to leave. Another song begins:

"Leave as swiftly as you are able..." Cut to the porter helping Yoshitsune with his load. The others are starting to fall into line.

"But not so swiftly that you would appear less innocent..."

Cut to Benkei, at the head of the line. The camera pulls back and we see all eight, moving to the left. The eighth is the porter, who has no load (!), and is doing a sort of dance.

"Rather, as though walking from the vipers' den...Rather, as though you tread upon the tail of the tiger..."

Cut back to Benkei, POV behind the barrier-keeper soldiers. Again, all eight walk by, the porter clowning at the last.

Another cut, POV behind and between two barrier-keeper soldiers -- again all eight pass, and the porter bows in both directions.

Yet another POV, from a bit above street level -- all eight pass through the gate. As the porter brings up the rear, he bows and laughs.

"Stop that porter!" someone yells. They rush after the porter and someone grabs him by the neck (close-up) -- his eyes are wide open with terror...

"Not that one -- the one with the hat..." the Messenger yells as he comes running. He moves to grab Yoshitsune, but the bearded monk intervenes. The camera moves in closer.

It is Benkei, the bearded monk, the porter and the Messenger.

Benkei: "What's this?"

Messenger: "He looks like someone." Benkei laughs.

Benkei: "A man looking like someone -- that's not unusual."

Messenger: "I mean...he looks like Yoshitsune."

Benkei: "What?" he says turning towards Yoshitsune. "This porter looks like Yoshitsune?"

Benkei grabs Yoshitsune by the shoulder and forces him to the ground: "Weakling! You're staggering along under this light load. No wonder people think it looks strange. We're always held up by your lagging behind. You're always getting us in trouble. I will tolerate you no longer!"

Benkei raises his stick.

Cut to the porter, looking horrified.

Cut to Benkei, as he brings down his stick on Yoshitsune. Once, twice --

Cut to the porter, in pain from watching --

Cut to a new, longer POV as the porter goes from side to side trying to stop Benkei from hitting Yoshitsune. He finally grabs the stick:

"This isn't right. Don't be so unreasonable." He is crying.

Close-up on Benkei, pain in his eyes from what he has done. Long shot.

"You deserve this," he says, looking down on Yoshitsune. "Get up and move!"

Messenger: "Wait! He resembles Yoshitsune very closely." He moves closer.

Benkei moves between them:

"So, you've been eyeing his load? Are you a thief?" There is still silence. "Now I see why you have been so unreasonable." Benkei's indignation has built up to a fever pitch. He slams his staff to the ground: "Barrier-keeper, huh?" The Messenger is ready to draw his sword. Benkei laughs. "This is wicked audacity."

The monks charge the barrier-keepers. In a series of cuts, the monks push the keepers back, left to right. Finally, we see Togashi to the side of the road with his eyes closed. Close on him for a long pause until he finally opens his eyes and speaks:

"Had this carrier been Yoshitsune, none of them would dare strike him..."

Messenger: "...but Togashi..."

Togashi: "...there is no vassal who would strike his own master." He stands, POV behind him now.

"You may pass," he says, pointing towards the monks. The Messenger protests. Togashi turns to face him: "It is I who am in charge here!" Togashi walks out of the shot at front left...the Messenger stands there furious...

Cut to the monks -- close on Benkei...

VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) #2

An empty scene. The sound of laughter. The porter appears, followed by the others. He speaks:

"We're safe now, gentlemen...let's rest..."

Another monk: "I must say I was surprised when Benkei raised his stick. Only Benkei could think of such a plan..."

Cut to the porter, just getting it: "Now I see! I thought he suddenly lost his mind.

Pumpkin head!" as he pantomimes getting hit in the head. There is much laughter, until we see Benkei, slumping down to the ground. All are silent.

Cut to the porter, surrounded by other monks.

Cut to Benkei, hands on the ground.

Cut to Kataoka and the bearded monk; back on Benkei -- now close on Benkei, in pain:
"...An unforgivable sin...even if it was a desperate measure..."

Yoshitsune removes his hat and we see his full face for the first time in the film:

"Benkei. Do not apologize."

Benkei: "What I have done will make my arm rot." Yoshitsune reaches for Benkei's hand.

Yoshitsune: "It is not this hand that struck me -- it was heavenly protection. The holy hand of the God of War guarded me. I am thankful."

Close on Benkei, raising his head up, his lips quivering. But he returns to his ashamed state -- his eyes closing and his head dropping.

[This entire scene is likely to have been a major factor in the American Occupation force's decision to ban this film after the war, not to be seen until 1952!]

Cut to Kataoka and the bearded monk...

Cut to the porter, in long shot, at frame left:

"May they all go to the devil."

He runs out of the frame to the left -- something has scared him again! Soon we see people coming into the right side of the frame, walking. Some are carrying things. Cut to the path, from behind the monks, looking at these gift-bearers. They sit and bow to the standing monks. One speaks:

"I've brought gifts to you from the Magistrate Togashi."

Medium close on the newcomers.

The man who spoke looks over at Yoshitsune, covered in his hat again. Yoshitsune moves his head slightly. The man seems to make an almost imperceptible bow. Cut back to the medium shot from behind the monks:

"He apologizes for being rude to you."

Benkei: "How considerate of him." He, and the others, sit down as well. The men who are carrying the saké begin to bring it over to the monks. The porter notices it immediately and there is a long reaction shot of his looking excited at the prospect of drinking some saké. The camera pulls back. A man sets down the saké table and says:

"First, please accept this drink." Close-up of saké table and three bowls. Close-up on Benkei. A new song begins:

"...After danger is averted, then is kindness savored sympathy gratefully accepted, and gratefully received though one had not expected in regions wild as these the cup of friendship, the taste of kindness, the very grail of humanity..."

During this song, Benkei looks up. Cut to man, back to Benkei. His eyes lower. They bow to each other and the man pours Benkei some saké. Close-up of bowl...close-up of Benkei. He sips from the bowl. Cut to the porter, who pantomimes thirst with a quick tongue-sticking-out and a look...cut back to Benkei finishing his drink. He looks up at the man. Cut to the man, who says: "Another drink?" Back to Benkei who seems to say something in the affirmative...

Benkei drinks again...dissolve -- he is finishing another bowl -- dissolve -- he is finishing another bowl. This last cut is longer than the preceding ones, and he finally holds up the bowl so we see its bottom...he is very drunk!

Cut to the porter, looking envious. He stealthily grabs a pot of saké and pours himself a drink. Afraid of having the pot snatched from him, he begins to pour the pot into the bowl as he drinks a steady stream of saké...finally, he takes the pot and drinks straight from the spout. Somebody hits him on the head and takes the pot away (Benkei?). He hiccups and coughs from the saké. He sneezes.

Cut to Benkei. He still has not had enough. He motions to a man with a pot. He brings it over with a huge bowl -- the size of a large dog-food bowl. Benkei takes the bowl. He taps the man on the wrist and the man pours the entire pot into Benkei's bowl. He then gets the attention of another man with a ladle, who had been serving another monk. He grabs the ladle and pours it all into his bowl. He begins to drink.

Cut to the porter, licking his small bowl, getting every last drop of saké.

Cut back to Benkei. The man is chugging. We see the back of this bowl, as well, as he tilts it as far as he can to get every last drop! He flutters his lips and looks about in a drunken stupor. "Who will dance?" he mutters. His gaze turns towards the porter. "You there, porter! Dance to celebrate our drinking!"

The porter comes to his feet, falls, and rises again. He, too, is drunk. The monks gather.

The porter begins a song/dance:

"A turtle lives on top of a rock..."

He grabs Benkei's large dog-food bowl and uses it as a prop. The dance becomes wilder and wilder. He drops the bowl. He spins like a dervish, and lands in the bearded monk's lap. The music stops. All are laughing. The porter, a babe in the arms of this huge man, laughs and smiles. He curls up, as if to go to sleep. The monk picks him up and puts him on the ground.

Cut to Benkei, with Yoshitsune in the background. "I, too, will dance before I bid farewell...." Music:

"Though the cascades sound... Inviting us to stay... Though the sun shines brightly asking us to linger... Still, we must move onward... Else we may not arrive..."

Dissolve to an empty scene again...the camera pans right until we see the porter, covered up, sleeping...

He awakens and sneezes. He looks at the robe in which he was covered (it was Yoshitsune's) and a purse which they have obviously left for him. He stands up and we see him now in extreme long-shot, a solitary figure on a bleak plain with a cloud-streaked sky...

He begins to dance. He picks up the robe. The dance becomes more frenzied. He falls down. He gets back up, now a silhouette against the sky. He dances himself out of the frame, to the left. Long hold on the empty scene (and the music changes)...Fade to black.

"The End" on black background.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SOURCES:

Stephen Prince: "The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa," (Princeton University Press (1991/1999) [SP]

Donald Richie: "The Films of Akira Kurosawa," University of California Press (1998) [DR]

James Goodwin: "Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema," The John Hopkins University Press (1994) [JG]

Stuart Galbraith IV: "The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune," Faber and Faber (2001) [SG]

Akira Kurosawa: "Something Like an Autobiography," Vintage Books (1983) [AK]

10 WIPES
HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the right) -- 2
HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) -- 6
VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) -- 2
VERTICAL WIPE (bottom to top) -- 0

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