Based on the book The Town Without Seasons by Shugoro Yamamoto, Dodesukaden is the story about the daily lives of a group of people living in the Tokyo slums struggling to survive. Directed by Akira Kurosawa and screenplay by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, and Shinobu Hashimoto, the film marks Kurosawa’s first feature shot in color to capture the lives of different people living in a world that is away from the more vibrant world of Tokyo. Starring Yoshitaka Zushi, Kin Sugai, and Toshiyuki Tonomura. Dodesukaden is an extraordinary film from the legendary Akira Kurosawa.
The film is essentially a loose collection of stories about a group of people who live near the Tokyo slums as the film explores the lives of these people in the span of a few days. Among them is a young mentally-challenged man (Yoshitaka Zushi) who pretends to be a train operator since he lives next door to a train rail with his mother. Other characters include a reliable old man who tries to help as many people as he can, a reclusive man who is estranged from his wife, two drunken men whose wives decide to swap husbands for a while, a man with a twitch and an unappreciated wife, a young woman who works for an abusive alcoholic uncle, and a father and son dealing with starvation as they dream for a better world.
The film’s lack of conventional plot does allow Akira Kurosawa and his co-writers in Hideo Oguni and Shinobu Hashimoto to create numerous stories about these people as it includes a small group of women who are the center of the slum village washing clothes or whatever as they comment on everything that is around them. Some of these stories about these people do have character developments that would help advance the stories such as the old man trying to help out various people including a suicidal man, a violent man swinging a sword, and eventually the people in his village through whatever situations. Then there’s the girl Hatsutaro (Kunie Tanaka) who is dealing with her uncle’s abuse where she doesn’t say a word until the last ten minutes where she speaks about why she did what she did to a delivery boy in relation to her uncle’s abuse.
The film’s loose screenplay with its lack of structure and storytelling conventions is at times hard to follow because there isn’t anything that is synonymous with traditional screen schematics. Through Akira Kurosawa’s direction, it allows the film to be told visually to establish a world that is unique and also imaginative. Shot in a 1:33:1 full-frame aspect ratio, Kurosawa allows the frame to say a lot with its close-up and medium shots while maintaining a sense of theatricality in some of the performances. Even in scenes that play to certain fantasies such as the father and son discussing their idea of their dream home or the backgrounds around the slums where it has an air of surrealism though the film is shot largely in an actual slum village.
With the use of mostly unknowns, with the exception of a few Kurosawa regulars, Kurosawa is able to create performance that is natural such as the character Ruku-chan who opens the film with praying to Buddha for his mother as he leaves to work in his imaginary train station and the film ends with him in an appropriate manner as if he just finished his work day. Throughout the entirety of the film, Kurosawa is always taking his time to explore each character and their own issues where some its comical while others are quite dramatic. Notably in scenes where there’s something bad could be happening but Kurosawa always finds a way to not play to the schematics of suspense in order to let it play in an unexpected way. Overall, the result is a truly rich and hypnotic film from Akira Kurosawa.
Cinematographers Yasumichi Fukuzawa and Takao Saito do amazing work with the colorful cinematography from the colorful sunny exteriors and nighttime scenes to the way some of the interiors are lit including the array of color windows in Ruku-chan‘s home. Editor Reiko Kaneko does nice work with the editing by essentially keeping it straightforward to the cutting without a lot of style while creating some seamless transitions to move one story to another. Art directors Shinobu and Yoshiro Muraki do brilliant work with the look of the homes many of the characters live in while Ruku-chan’s home is filled with children’s drawing of trains as it plays to the character’s innocence.
Costume designer Miyuki Suzuki does excellent work with the costumes to play up the characters‘ environment where some look shabby while other try to look respectable. Sound effects editor Ichiro Minawa does superb work with the sound effects to create Ruku-chan‘s sense of fantasy to play out his idea that he‘s working on a train. The film’s score by Toru Takemitsu is wonderful for its mixture of folk-driven music with guitars, harmonicas, and flutes to more orchestral flourishes where the latter plays out a lot of the film’s drama.
The film’s cast is phenomenal as it features a lot of non-actors in the role while Kurosawa veterans like Kunie Tanaka as the troubled Hatsutaro and Kin Sugai as her ailing aunt are very good in their small roles. The real standout is Yoshitaka Zushi as the mentally-challenged Ruku-chan whose charismatic and innocent performance brings a lot of joy to the film.
While it may be considered to be minor Akira Kurosawa in terms of the work he did in his later years, Dodesukaden is still an enriching and delightful film from the Japanese master. Fans of loosely-told stories will enjoy this for its unconventional storytelling while fans of Akira Kurosawa will see this as a worthwhile experiment though it falls short with many of his samurai and othe dramatic features. In the end, Dodesukaden is a beautiful and enchanting film from Akira Kurosawa.
Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Pt. II) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail) - No Regrets on Our Youth - (One Wonderful Sunday) - Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - Dreams (1990 film) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)
© thevoid99 2012
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