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Film / The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

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The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is a 1945 feature film (barely, 59 minutes) directed by Akira Kurosawa.

It is set in 1185 during the Genpei War, and is based on a play, which is based on an older play, which was in turn based on a real guy, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, and a real historical incident. Yoshitsune Minamoto has just won a great naval victory against the family's enemies, the Heike clan. However, his brother, the shogun Yoritomo, has become convinced that Yoshitsune is plotting against him. (History is ambiguous about whether or not he was.) Yoritomo has ordered his brother's arrest.

Yoshitsune, stuck in Kaga province which is controlled by his brother, seeks to escape to safe territory. As the story opens, he is headed for the border of Kaga province, accompanied only by his bodyguard Musashibo Benkei, six other loyalists, and a chatterbox porter. Eventually the little party is caught by border guards, and Benkei has to use his wits to get his master to safety.

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Not shown in Japan until 1952. The film was completed at the tail end of World War II—in fact, Kurosawa and company took a break from production to listen to Hirohito's August 15, 1945 radio broadcast announcing the Japanese surrender. The American occupation authorities banned it, for fear of playing up Japanese feudal ideals.


Tropes:

  • Anticlimax: There is a whole extended sequence after the gang gets across the border where nothing much happens. Benkei, relaxing after the tension has been released, gets drunk on sake and sings a song. The porter also gets drunk on sake, and sings and dances. They go to sleep. The porter wakes up in the morning and finds everyone gone. Then the movie ends.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: The climax comes when the party has been arrested by Togashi's men. They claim to be on a mission to raise funds for a new temple. Kajiwara, Togashi's sidekick, is suspicious. He demands to hear the prospectus for the temple. So Benkei unfurls a blank scroll and, making everything up off the top of his head, reels off a plan for a new temple. It works.
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  • Chromosome Casting: There are no women in the movie, supposedly because Toho's actresses had been evacuated from Tokyo in the last days of the war.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: The porter, who starts chattering about how Yoshitsune and his people are headed for the border, and how they're a party of seven dressed as monks. Then he has his Oh, Crap! moment, counts, and realizes that he's traveling with seven people dressed as monks, headed for the border.
  • Happily Ever Before: Japanese viewers would have known the true history. While the film ends with Yoshitsune and his party getting over the border, and in Real Life they did, in Real Life Yoshitsune was hunted down by his brother's people soon after this. He committed Seppuku.
  • Jidai Geki: Specifically, 1185, at the end of the Henpei period and the beginning of the Kamakura period.
  • Motor Mouth: The nameless porter, who will not shut up and who annoys Benkei and the others immensely.
  • Narration: Unusual in that the narration is sung, with a male and a female singing about the plot, at one narrating/singing about how Lord Yoshitsune disguised himself as a humble porter.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Does Togashi know that the second porter really is Yoshitsune? It's kind of hinted at that he does, but we never find out.
  • Run for the Border: Yoshitsune and his party trying to get across the border and out of the province controlled by his brother, before they're caught.
  • Title Drop: The narrator singers sing about "rather as though you tread on the tail of the tiger."
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Yoshitsune and his half-dozen loyalists trapped in Kaga province, controlled by his brother.
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