Yes, there was indeed a brief hiatus (or, cinematico interruptus), and likely three weeks have gone by between postings, but I assure you the distraction was most definitely cinema-related as we were busy programming repertory screenings in Vancouver. At any rate, I was still able to find a few gems over the last couple of weeks and now I’ll be playing catch-up with this blog. So here goes…
Written by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Shinobu Hashimoto & Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Source: Rental DVD (Criterion).
I have not seen a lot of Kurosawa’s films, and of those from his extensive career that I have, none of them have been the types of films he’s widely known for – his Samurai films. Roshomon notwithstanding (I don’t really consider this one a true Samurai genre film), it’s taken me some time to get engaged in the whole Japanese Samurai film as a whole, as I’d mentioned in an earlier short essay on the movie Three Outlaw Samurai. Rather, (Roshomon notwithstanding once again), my exposure to Kurosawa was his crime films, Stray Dog, and one of my all-time favourite films, High and Low. I’ve long considered High and Low to be one of the best stories I’ve ever seen filmed. It’s not the crime aspect of the story (the kidnapping of a young boy, held for ransom – in fact, based on an Ed McBain novel titled A King’s Ransom), but rather the purely human, and dare I say, optimistically humanistic reactions to the crime, a crime which turns out to be a wicked folly. Add to this the sudden introduction, about halfway through the movie, of shall we say a cinematic essay on the division of class in Japan in the 1960’s. Now take those two interesting components, the components you might even say that Kurosawa as a storyteller was most interested in exploring, and place those ideas now in a lush, colourful world of society misfits (the poor) living in the dilapidated outskirts of Tokyo. Here you have the wonderful Dodes’Ka-Den, a story of pure humanity told through many different characters as they go through their lives like dogs chasing their tales. A crippled businessman who seems to be liked by everyone in the makeshift community, a lone hermit, whose past is filled with angst and sorrow, bickering housewives and their drunk husbands, a zen master, a sick father of a sick child who, rather than trying to physically care for his son, tries to get his son to escape with him into an imaginary world that he uses to block out his own reality; and a young, slightly mentally challenged boy, who thinks of himself as a streetcar conductor and spends his days running, on foot, from one end of the compound to the other, making his imaginary streetcar runs over an eight-hour shift to the sounds of dodes’ka-den, dodes’ka-den, dodesa’ka-den, symbolically and nonsensically verbalizing the day-to-day repetitiveness that is what the entire micro-community is trying to escape from. As these characters come to learn and realize life lessons we experience their anger, frustration, sorrow, irony, love, and even many moments of comic levity. This isn’t just a movie about human beings, it’s a beautiful movie about human beings.