DODESUKADEN

(Also spelled as Dodes'ka-den)
(1970 - Japan)
With Yoshitaka Zushi, Kin Sugai, Junzaburo Ban, Kiyoko Tange, Hisashi Igawa, Hideko Okiyama,    Kunie Tanaka, Jitsuko Yoshimura
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Reviewed by JB

    As the saying goes, you are only as good as your last picture.  Kurosawa's RED BEARD (1965) was a gigantic hit in Japan, but following its release, Kurosawa endured a series of setbacks. Despite the success of RED BEARD, Kurosawa's tendency to go over budget due to his legendary perfectionism had soured the Japanese film industry on him.  With a new artistic spirit flowing through the sixties, "The Emperor" was also seen by some as a relic of the past.  His planned film for  The United States, RUNAWAY TRAIN, fell by the wayside (the idea was used later for the fine 1985 film of the same same), and he was dumped as the director of the Japanese section of the Pearl Harbor film TORA! TORA! TORA!.  Suspect stories leaked out that the director had a nervous breakdown over the situation, and his reputation was in tatters.  DODESUKADEN was a film Kurosawa made to prove, as he said himself, that he wasn't insane.  In order to restore his reputation, he had to make a new film quickly and under budget.  Oh, yes, it also had to be a critical and popular hit.  

    Unfortunately for the director, only the first two requirements were filled.  What Kurosawa needed was another RED BEARD or SEVEN SAMURAI, but DODESUKADEN was a huge flop with the critics and the public. It's reception was so poor,  it was a major factor in the director's later attempt to take his own life.

    In retrospect, it is not a bad film at all. In fact, forty years after it was first released, DODESUKADEN is a poetic, creative and yet sometimes frustrating piece of work that is in some ways the most engaging post-1965 film he would make until 1985's RAN.  The film centers on a slum town on the edge of an auto graveyard, and jumps from character to character to allow multiple vignettes to develop over two hours.  Some of the vignettes are entertaining, some are not, and in the end you might find it all adds up to nothing, but the performances are engaging and Kurosawa's imaginiative use of bright and basic colors clearly show he was ready to master the art of color film. 3 - JB

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