Dodes’ka-den (1970)

22 03 2009

Not so long ago, before viewings of Drunken Angel and No Regrets for Our Youth, I was not at all pro-Kurosawa. Now thanks to those films among others, I am. But before then, I got this film recommended to me as a effort that would convert me. I can see what the numerous people that recommended this to me were thinking, but at the same time, it is the most un-Kurosawan film of his I’ve seen. It took all of three minutes for me to realize this. This isn’t exactly why the film doesn’t work, but it kind of explains many of its flaws and curious choices.

I’d imagine that most people that have seen this know the back story, but here it is anyway: Kurosawa had just been fired from his job on Tora! Tora! Tora! and desperately needed a new project to work. He, along with Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Masayaki Kobayashi formed a production team Yonki-no-Kai. This film was their first and only production, and it’s failure may or may not have contributed to Kurosawa’s suicide attempt. Needless to say, it’s hard not to see this film as an extremely personal one for Kurosawa. He most likely poured his heart into this project, even though it took far less time than any of his other films.

Have I established yet that this film is pretty bizarre? It revolves around the lives of the people living within in a Tokyo slum. These people have quite possibly the most surrealistic experiences imaginable. The whole thing is pulled together by its central character: a retarded kid who pretends he is a train conductor. Beware readers, Gummo and Pixote references are likely to be seen. Like those two films, there is sense of amazement that comes from bizarre situations, all of which seem completely natural.

So why isn’t this as great as Babenco and Korine’s aformentioned masterpieces. Well, it is a difficult thing to put my finger on, but simply stated, I think Kurosawa’s film is a little bit too bizarre. In addition to the surreal realism, there is goofy technicolor fantasy tone, which seems to stem a little bit from Shuji Terayama. It is a little bit awkward to compare Kurosawa to all these directors that function in a world of transgressive behavior, while Kurosawa became popular for such classical works as Seven Samurai and Rashomon. This may or may not explain why Kurosawa comes off so earnest here. It seems like he’s trying too hard. I admire his intentions here, but I can’t say he isn’t contributing anything entirely new to the “glue-sniffing” faux-genre. A curious piece, undoubtedly, but not a masterpiece by any means.

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One response

22 03 2009
James

Thanks for the review…

Its one if the Kurosawa films I haven’t seen.

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