Directed by Senkichi Taniguchi and
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Senkichi Taniguchi
Cast: Toshirō Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Setsuko Wakayama, Akitake Kôno, Yoshio Kosugi, Kokuten Kôdô, Taizô Fukami, Eizaburô Sakauchi, Fumio Ōmachi, Nobumitsu Mochizuki, Kenzo Asada, and Fusatarô Ishijima
Pursued by the police, a gang of robbers escape to a snowy mountain range then must find refuge.
Penned by Akira Kurosawa, Snow Trail is the earliest film that features Toshirō Mifune and Takashi Shimura as co-stars. The two actors would in a few years after Snow Trail emerge under Akira Kurosawa as two of the strongest stars in Japanese cinema. So, watching Snow Trail feels like an odd preliminary of these two iconic screen duo that would go on to create so many classics. Moreover, Snow Trail is the cinematic debut of Toshirō Mifune as well. Toshirō Mifune is one of the most iconic figures of Japanese cinema or even East Asian cinema, in general. Toshirō Mifune’s electrifying presence that would propel him to stardom is introduced in Snow Trail. The rugged and dominating screen presence that would define Toshirō Mifune’s career is likely Snow Trail’s greatest draw. Eijima is an enigmatic and dashing figure whose standards of morality are self-centered. He is kind of one note yet Toshirō Mifune’s performance elevates Eijima from a mere one-note characterization. Likewise, Takashi Shimura’s role anticipates sort of the characterization that would make him a legendary actor under Akira Kurosawa which is a character with a world-weary maturity.
Snow Trail’s beginning starts with odd shifts in perspectives. We get a taste of how the world views the robbers. Such as the media as seen during the opening credits. Next, the perspective of the police where also the plot’s central premises is laid out, clearly. And, finally, the viewpoint of an average civilian when the three robbers get tangled up at an inn. Admittedly, I’m not sure if this odd start was absolutely necessary. But, given the isolated surroundings, it does show how the robbers affect the larger world around them. After that, Snow Trail settles into a sort of a Western which the film is very self-conscious of. Given the placement of the old country music tune, My Old Kentucky Home. The song’s lyrics also form the basis of Snow Trail’s thematic intent. Snow Trail is principally a character study of thieves and their humanity. The two old proverbs, ”there is no honor among thieves” and ”honor among thieves”, are both tested through its story. Snow Trail’s ending mountain climb becomes a fierce proving grounds for that character study. In the days, where shooting on sound stage was common, Snow Trail is shot on location. Thus helping to ground Snow Trail visually closer to reality.
Snow Trail is slightly forgettable and only would likely attract the interest of Toshirō Mifune and Takashi Shimura fans these days. Yet, it is still somewhat of a strong character study that doubles as an icy cold thriller.