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Japan, 1970 (MIFF 1971, Programme 6)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa's first film in five years centres on the inhabitants of a shanty-town society.

The town is little more than an ugly array of metal sheets and tar paper shacks resembling the city dump. Despite its appearance the inhabitants, albeit their hand to mouth existence, seek happiness in their own strange and varied ways.

There is the woman who prays that her feeble minded son will be cured. A low salaried, white-collar worker subject to frequent spasms, seems doubly miserable in the shadow of his domineering wife. Two day labourers and their wives, who live next door to one another, go on nightly binges and swap wives whenever the mood strikes them. An ageing tramp entertains his son with elaborate descriptions of a palatial house being built for them. An obese brush-maker has for his wife the best looking woman in the community. Now pregnant, she has already borne him an assortment of children by the men in the area.

The film probes into the character of man as Kurosawa examines tiny sparks of heroism through the intermittent biographies of a group of wretches, with nothing but their small store of courage to keep them going.

Despite his own previous ventures into the lower depths, Kurosawa comes across the territory as if it had never been charted before, with an inventive and engaging enthusiasm accounted for, perhaps, by the fact that this is his first colour film.

The settings of Dodes'ka-Den, for all their simplicity, are indeed the most striking Kurosawa has used.

Kurosawa's symbols have always enjoyed several layers of interpretation, but Dodes'ka-Den is possibly his first film in which the surfaces are so brittle and the inferences so deep.

Philip Strick, Sight and Sound

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