Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
This 1947 suspense melodrama was written by the young Akira Kurosawa, and it stars two of Kurosawa’s screen alter egos, Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. They’re playing bank robbers (Japan has bank robbers?) on the run from the law, who take refuge in mountainous winter terrain. Mifune is the cruel, self-centered bastard (a role I wish he’d played more often); Shimura is the pair’s soul and conscience. The screenplay is notable for the way in which, during its early portions, its point of view refuses to remain fixed: Opening on a group of lawmen in pursuit of the criminals, it quickly skips to a pair of boys who uncover some clues regarding the crime, and finally lands on the robbers themselves. In structuring the movie in this manner Kurosawa may have intended to slowly zero in on the core of the story’s action, but director Senkichi Taniguchi doesn’t have the finesse to sell the device — it feels odd, confused, arbitrary. The plot of the movie is heavily indebted to American crime films in the Bogart tradition, things like “The Petrified Forest” and “High Sierra.” (At one point the Mifune character professes an interest in American movies.) But it’s equally indebted to German films of the ’20s and ’30s, the mountain genre in particular — a weird correlation given the state of world affairs at the time of the movie’s release. Taniguchi is well-suited to the mountain film: He has a knack for capturing primal images of landscape and weather, and for connecting them to the drives and emotions of his characters. Yet he’s also adept at homey domestic scenes: There’s considerable warmth in his treatment of a snowbound family who unwittingly aids the two fugitives. Kurosawa must have recycled a few of his ideas, as “Snow Trail” bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1985 “Runway Train,” based on one of his later screenplays. The redemptive narrative is predictable and perhaps trite, but it points the way to Kurosawa’s humanist parables of his middle period.