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Today’s post is brought to you by our first guest blogger, Michael W. Michael’s path and mine have frequently crossed over the years due to a number of common interests, including our incurable cinephilia for both personal and academic enrichment. He currently resides in Japan, where he has access to all sorts of cool stuff, which he is always generously inclined to share.

Film: Snow Trail [Ginrei no hate 銀嶺の果て]
Director: TANIGUCHI Senkichi 谷口 千吉
Performers: MIFUNE Toshirô, SHIMURA Takashi, WAKAYAMA Setsuko, KŌNO Akitake, KOSUGI Yoshio
Production Information: Toho, 1947 (Japan)
Breed: Hokkaido ken?*

After committing a robbery in Nagano, three thieves, Nojiri (Shimura), Ejima (Mifune), and Takasugi (Kosugi), make their way deep into the Japanese Alps in order to avoid pursuit by the police. However, they leave a number of glaring clues about their whereabouts, allowing the police to stay hot on their trail. After losing Takasugi in an avalanche, and thereby throwing the police off of their trail, the two remaining men luckily find a ski lodge operated by an old man and his young granddaughter. An expert mountain climber named Honda is there as well. Although safe for the time being at the lodge, tensions begin to rise between the gentler Nojiri and the hot-headed Ejima which leads to the two thieves and Honda attempting to cross over the snowy and deadly mountains.

Although Senkichi Taniguchi was a prolific director in his own right, this early postwar film will probably mainly appeal to film buffs for three reasons. The screenplay was written by the renowned director Akira Kurosawa, the film’s score was composed by Akira Ifukube of Godzilla fame, and it also marks Toshirô Mifune’s acting debut.

The film is a good work for its cinematography, creative use of black and white imagery, and for the chemistry between Shimura and Mifune who would share appearances in quite a number of Kurosawa’s films. However, and this just might be my personal taste, the acting of Setsuko Wakayama, who plays the granddaughter, is quite annoying, because she puts on a saccharine sweet performance of a “cute” six-year-old girl trapped in an eighteen-year-old woman’s body. Yet, her bubbly performance might have been a breath of fresh air to viewers watching this film in their war-ravaged archipelago.

Our four-legged friend belongs to a tracker who is attempting to locate the three thieves. Although the dog’s screen time is quite limited, the dog does play a major part in progressing the film’s narrative because his/her barks are what make the three thieves flee a shed in which they were seeking shelter. Also, the dog “causes” the death of the thief Takasugi because when the frightened man shoots at the dog, who he seemingly either grazes or misses, the loud gunshot causes an avalanche which kills him, but blocks the police from pursuing Nojiri and Ejima who were further ahead.

More important than the actual presence of the dog in this film is the sound of his barking. Not only does it make the thieves continuously move from their hiding positions, but it adds a certain tension to the film because it lets the thieves, as well as the viewer, know that the authorities are in close pursuit.

While not a masterpiece by any means, Snow Trail is a fun film that will particularly pique the interest of Mifune fans.

~ Michael W.

* Despite the absence of pricked ears that are now written into the standard, we decided that a Hokkaido ken is the best approximate “breed” for this indigenous Japanese dog based on the coloration, size, function, and the geographic site of filming (Mount Hakuba in Hokkaido prefecture). It is not known who supplied the dog for the movie, but regardless, for the sake of this blog, it is interesting to regard this segment as an archived glimpse of post-war Nihon ken at work.

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