Dodes'ka-Den

Kurosawa in Color is Pretty But Jumbled

Akira Kurosawa made a movie with several interlocking stories. The stories were all about the denizens of a Tokyo slum. They fight, gossip, joke, fantasize and live out their daily lives in destitute poverty. Dodes’ka-Den is pretty to look at in parts but jumps fitfully about and the stories are not particular compelling & the entiremovie has a relentlessly downbeat & somewhat preachy tone.

I’ve seen it twice now and I was bored both times. I’ve seen all but two or three Kurosawa movies and there are a few Kurosawa movies I don’t care for but this is the only one that outright bores me. Kurosawa highlighting the travails of les miserables is nothing new. He had already done so in Red Beard and The Lower Depths and both of those are far superior works. Here, Kurosawa seems to be playing it safe with retread themes and unimaginative camerawork. For all of the pretty colors, the maker of Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Rashomon renders a surprisingly static palette.

The making of Dodes’ka-Den was a turning point in Kurosawa’s life. It was an unqualified disaster. After over two decades in in the Japanesestudio system Kurosawa had broken with the studios and his stable of actors & entered into a fragile production partnership with three other directors. They desperately needed their first feature to be a hit. Dodes tanked critically and publically and Kurosawa tried to kill himself. Fortunately, he rallied and made six more movies, including the excellent Kagamusha & Dersu Uzala, the masterpiece Ran and the very watchable Dreams & Madadayo. Dodes’ka-Den is a lesser work by one of the greatest directors ever, which means it’s a better work that most directors’ best work.

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