so goes the mantra of Rokuchan, a boy with a mental handicap of some sort; believing himself to be a trolley car conductor, everyday he runs into town, making the sound of “clickety-clack” with his mouth, picking up imaginary people and warning others of his incoming car with a honk.
He is but one piece of the painting that is Akira Kurosawa’s DODES’KA-DEN, a fairy-tale for adults. But true to the fairy-tale format, everything is dark and grim, despite the pastel and primary color scheme Kurosawa uses for his first color film.
The look is marvellous, often resembling an impressionistic water-color painting. Apparently, Kurosawa would paint whatever he felt needed to be painted on the set: houses, walls, windows, rocks, even the ground, painting subtle shadows liks a german expressionist. (It’s still quite obvious in the film)
DODES’KA-DEN is about a town set in a garbage dump. This town is populated by the losers of the world.
By the water pump, a group of gossipy women provide whispers and remarks like sirens.
Rokuchan, as mentioned above, lives in his own contrsucted world, his home walled with his child-like trolley drawings. His hard-working mother prays for him everyday.
There are the two couples, who’s husbands are complete drunkards and are so alike that they wives decide to swap. Both have color-coordinated houses and costumes. One couple is yellow and black themed, while their neighbors are red.
A man who lives in horribly grim house walks around like the living dead. Soon, a mysterious woman enters his home and his past begins to unfold…
An uncle and his niece live together, awaiting the arrival of the sick aunt from the hospital. In the meantime, he sits and drinks and drinks and drinks while his niece works day and night making fake flowers. Her physical complexing begins to resemble someone literally detiorating, getting thinner. The liquor boy who comes by every day doesn’t seem to know the torment she endures. She herself is almost catatonic.
A business man from down the road walks with a gimp of some sort. Sometimes he has a funny twitch that resembles someone snorting uncontrollably. He is a good man. His wife is a horribly rude and mean woman with no tact and no manners.
A pregnant woman in pink goes off, struting provacatively, attracting all the men around her. Apparently, she’s screwed everyone. But her good husband takes care of all the bastard children and raises them well.
A destitue bum and his son live in broken down car. The son goes off and begs for food behind kitchens. The father has day dreams of the house they will soon live in, which he imagines is set upon a neon hill, where the sky is forever blue and the house becomes incresingly tacky and more fantastic. Soon they contract food poisioning and their faces become more and more blue and ghastly, like dead people.
In the middle is an old, wise man, who has a sort of serenity to his life-style. He brings a sort of order to those he is able to help, though he cannot save all. In some ways, he is like a benevolent king, who does the best he can.
None of these are really connected, except for the fact that they all live in this same garbage dump village. All have horrible problems, and yet, some are able to cope, and some aren’t.
The uncle and niece story enters the realm of a horror drama story, while the living dead man and the mysterious woman is something akin to a play; the trolley-boy’s day dreams provide some sort of relief, where his neon fantasies are escapes not only for him, but for the audience.
but there are also negative fantasies, like the bum and his fantasy house, which, because of his ignorance, takes presience over the life of his dying son.
The husband with the tic and twitch believes he loves his wife very much…but she’s still a horrible human being. Perhaps that is what’s causing his tic?
In the end, Kurosawa doesn’t provide answers. He just presents a tapestry, however colorful, of sorrow and suffering where the illusion of happiness is just that…illusions and dreams. He does, however, try to explain how such individuals get into this spot. Despite his vagueness on such issues, he still manages to convey an array of emotions.
In fact, Kurosawa holds back his filmic technique for this film, often resorting to an objective, though painterly look. Because of the impressionistic use of color the film starts out looking like a play, and even goes off looking like a kabuki play, where people’s faces become masks and the set’s artificiality plays a key role.
Some of the takes are so long that you are hypnotized. one of the longest acting scenes lasts at leasts nine minutes. But despite this, the film never really loses its cinematic textures. Kurosawa just holds back and saves it for momentary explosions of color and movement.
Because of this, the film is extremely difficult to sit through. It is slow and deliberately frustrating in revealing things to the audience. However, in the end, it is extremely rewarding and even miraculous in conveying a microcosm of human existence.
It’s the smallest biggest film of life ever made by Kurosawa.
He uses music sparingly, and the score was by Tori Takemitsu. It is actually much sunnier sounding than the film’s themes, but Kurosawa knows where and how to use it without sounding sentimental or paradoxical.
In the end, DODES’KA-DEN is all about the human spirit, and how, despite what happens, and despite how flimsy, will always live on, just like Rokuchan’s imaginary trolley car…