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DODES ‘KA-DEN (aka Dodesukaden)(director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriters: Shinobu Hashimoto/Hideo Oguni/based on “The Town Without Seasons,” by Shugoro Yamamoto; cinematographers: Yasumichi Fukuzawa/Takao Saitô; editor: Reiko Kaneko; music: Tôru Takemitsu; cast: Yoshitaka Zushi (Rokkuchan), Kin Sugai (Okuni, Rokkuchan’s Mother), Toshiyuki Tonomura (Taro Sawagami), Shinsuke Minami (Ryotaro Sawagami), Yûko Kusunoki (Misao Sawagami), Junzaburo Ban (Yukichi Shima), Kiyoko Tange (Mrs. Shima); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Yoichi Matsue/Akira Kurosawa; Janus Films; 1970-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“The execution is rather crude.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Akira Kurosawa’s (“Red Beard”/”Ikiru”/”Dersu Uzala”) urban drama is a slice of life depiction of slum dwellers living in a shantytown on Tokyo’s outskirts, where people live in a fantasy world–an elderly man and a boy erect an imaginary house, a taciturn man remains obsessed over the possibility of his wife being unfaithful and a mentally retarded adolescent (Yoshitaka Zuxhi) thinks he’s a trolley and moves around repeating the sound “dodes’ka-den, dodes’ka-den.” The film bombed at the box office upon its release and was also panned by the critics, which supposedly made Kurosawa so depressed he contemplated suicide.

It’s Kurosawa’s first film in Technicolor and he makes the most of it showing off an array of bold colors. At best I found a few scenes poignant but mostly found it uninvolving and unimportant, not quite the film I would expect from someone considered a major filmmaker. Though ambitious in trying to take in the social picture of contemporary Tokyo, which Kurosawa relates in a Gorki-like way by telling of the human condition and by lionizing the downtrodden over the so-called better people, none of it stuck as anything mind-blowing. Kurosawa looks kindly on his subjects as surviving to live for another day because of their inherent goodness, loyalty and imagination. The problem is the execution is rather crude, the psychological characterizations seem facile, the down-and-outs seem more like plot devices than real characters, the acting is over stylized and you are hit over the head with all the points it makes to prove its agenda. With all those missteps you would think this was a complete bomb, but Kurosawa’s superior craftsmanship comes into play and he keeps it fluid–never sinking to mediocrity as he mixes together realism, social commentary, overbaked melodrama and fantasy. Because of the striking colors and the set pieces of poster-style walls, painted by Kurosawa himself, the film gives off a bizarre look.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”