Monday, November 16, 2015


Three bank robbers—Nojiro, the leader; Tagasuki, an older man; Ejimi, a cocky young guy—are on the run in the Japanese Alps. They stop at a mountain resort but when news reports note that Nojiro is missing two fingers on one hand, he is spotted by guests wearing a glove even in a spa bath and suspicions are raised. The three force a group of male guests to strip naked and stay in the outdoor hot springs bath while they make their escape. An avalanche causes the death of Tagasuki, and the other two take refuge at a much smaller ski lodge higher in the mountains. The only occupants are an old man, his young granddaughter, and Honda, a visiting mountaineer, all more or less trapped there by a recent blizzard. They have heard nothing about the robberies so the two men are secure for a time, posing as stranded travelers, but soon the gruff Nojiro finds himself becoming fond of young Haruko, who reminds him of his own daughter who died at an early age. Nojiro becomes enamored of the song "My Old Kentucky Home," a recording of which Haruko plays frequently. Ejimi sees how Nojiro is softening and the resulting tension between Ejimi and Nojiro eventually causes Ejimi to take control, forcing Honda to escort them down the mountain before the police clear a path in the snow. Of course, out in the elements, things don't go like Ejimi planned.

The fact that this movie is available on Criterion's streaming channel on Hulu is probably due to the fact that 1) Akira Kurosawa co-wrote the screenplay, and 2) Toshiro Mifune is in it—his very first film role—and he is very good in the rather flat role of the tough guy crook Ejimi, but it's certainly worth seeing for other reasons as well. It was filmed on location, and the snow and the mountains certainly add to the feel of the movie. The central performance by Takashi Shimura as Nojiro is excellent, fairly subtle until sentimentality breaks through at the very end. But just as good are Akitake Kono as the pleasant, handsome Honda and Setsuko Wakayama (pictured with Mifune) as the little girl. The film, directed by Senkichi Taniguchi, manages to be both a crime movie and a character study. There is humor, excitement and ultimately redemption for Nojiro. [Criterion streaming]

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