Written & directed by Akira Kurosawa. Based on the play Kanjincho by Namiki Gohei III.
In a time of feuding houses, a wily porter is surprised to discover the band of monks he's been hired to lead through the woods are actually Minamoto no Yoshitsu, prince of an overthrown clan, and six warriors dedicated to smuggling him across a road policed by a rival house.
What a marvelous little film (clocking in at a total of 60 minutes!). This is just a tiny chapter in a broader saga, yet feels like its own self-contained story. It mainly succeeds by focusing on the unnamed porter (Kenichi Enomoto), a small-town goof, as he finds himself smack dab in the biggest event of his life. While I was initially worried his over-the-top comic delivery, scurrying about and tittering like a rat, would feel out of place, it's laced with a child-like innocence which is perfectly at home in Kurosawa's world and helps to anchor what could, frankly, be a boring story.
Of the two main problems I have, the first is Denjiro Okochi's performance as Saito Musashibo Benkei, Yoshitsu's trusted retainer. He plays it with blank eyes, a forced frown, and slow, precise movements which would work in Kabuki theatre, but simply don't on film. Especially in contrast to the more naturalistic performances around him.
My second problem is a bizarre sequence near the end where everyone gets plastered on sake. Why? It has no purpose and drags awkwardly on and on.
Those two qualms aside, this is definitely a film worth tracking down, Kurosawa buff or not.