Reviews of Dodes'ka-den
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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…
After five years of frustration, in which he couldn’t find funding for “Runaway Train” and was fired from “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, Akira Kurosawa returned to film-making with this wildly episodic adaptation of stories by Yamamoto, one of his favorite writers, and adapted to color photography and a static full screen ratio that he would favor for the remainder of his career. The results are mixed, partly because what survives is only 140 minutes of an original 240 minute cut (similar to the fate of “The Idiot” 20 years earlier), cutting together disparate stories of folks in a shantytown with no particular focus on any one main character, a shocking transgression from the director’s usual cinema of heroes. The best parts – a retarded teenage boy who “rides” around the shantytown on an invisible trolley, two drunken best friends who swap wives and become confused by the lack of familiarity with the color coordinated opposites, a worker with a facial tick who defends his mean wife to coworkers – are compassionate in the face of waste and poverty (like “The Lower Depths”), but often the stories fall to tragedy and melodrama, like the focus on a homeless man and his son, who suffer food poisoning after begging for scraps. Kurosawa’s painter’s eye easily lends itself to imaginary color backdrops, which give the film an almost dreamlike quality, but I’ve always wondered what that original four-hour cut looked like, and if the dispersed characters were just a bit more fleshed out than what we were left with.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
I’ve heard quite a few people saying that this movie isn’t very good; while I do agree that it is definitely one of Kurosawa’s weaker films, it also assuredly has its strengths.
Being Kurosawa’s first colour film, this film really boasts color. With they way that Kurosawa depicts the shanty-town in which most of the action happens, it is really interesting so see just how colourful the movie is.
And while the movie is rather disjointed plot-wise, I think that it reflects the dilapidated town. In the end, this movie is extremely enjoyable, if just for the wonderful dialogue between the homeless father and his son.