The Conduct of Civility – The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, by Akira Kurosawa (1945)

Still from the opening scene of Akira Kurosawa's The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

Still from the opening scene of Akira Kurosawa’s The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

This film is masterful. Its subject is that the sublime conduct of civility supersedes, and puts aside, the warfare of political action. It is set in the feudal Japan of 1185. There are two groups of partisans, the persecuted and fleeing group weaker than the group representing the political power of the day.

Each group has its allegiance, the fleeing group, who are incognito and in disguise, to one of their own; the powerful group to a warlord who seeks the death of the protected member, his brother, of the other group.

The groups intersect. The weaker group needs to continue its flight. The stronger group has the ability to stop them. The encounter is of the utmost civility, and this civility takes several forms. The stronger group, nonetheless, recognizes the protected individual in the weaker group; the weaker group understands it will only survive if it is sufficiently creative not to refute the recognition but to have its consequences put aside.

At the barrier gate. Still from Akira Kurosawa's The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail.

At the barrier gate. Still from Akira Kurosawa’s The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail.

This putting aside is effected by an apparent breach of social norms in which the protected individual, who is of national stature, is beaten for his sloth as a porter by the leader of his protectors. This overturning of the prevailing code of conduct causes the leader of the stronger group to intellectually applaud the innovation, and so permits the weaker group to continue on its flight. Furthermore, the leader of the stronger group, being thus impressed, later sends a gift of saké to the now freed group, as an expression of his admiration of the sublimity of their conduct.

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