THE LOWER DEPTHS

(Japanese Title: Donzoko)
(1957)
With Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Kyoko Kagawa, Bokuzen Hidari, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

They wait for days while Akira searches for just the right color dirt     Not one of Kurosawa's more celebrated films, THE LOWER DEPTHS is an entertaining and humorous adaptation of a Maxim Gorky play (previously filmed several times, most notably by Jean Renoir in 1936) about a group of drifters, dreamers, gamblers and drunks who live out their lives in a rundown shack.  Unlike his complete re-imagining of Macbeth as THRONE OF BLOOD, Kurosawa opted for a more straightforward adaptation of this play, with fadeouts clearly marking the end of each act.  Also unlike THRONE OF BLOOD, THE LOWER DEPTHS has plenty of dialogue, most of it presumably the author's rather than Kurosawa's.  Kurosawa never lets the film get too "stagy", even when he opts for some incredibly long takes.  Painter that he was at heart, Kurosawa knew how to arrange a frame so that even static shots remained visually intriguing.

     The film is virtually plotless, a string of incidents in the lives of the downtrodden, but the superb cast keeps things from ever getting boring, even at two hours and five minutes.  Despite the notable lack of Takashi Shimura (and what's up with that?), THE LOWER DEPTHS is the ultimate "Kurosawa Players" film, with many of the director's favorite Toho stars working together in a superb ensemble.  I haven't seen many non-Kurosawa Japanese films from this period, but I am willing to bet no other director so consistently used these same players, usually with the most memorable, if not handsome, faces, and gave them so much to do.   Although Toshiro Mifune gets star billing and is excellent as a thief who woos both the landlady and her sister, for my money, it is the comically ugly Bokuzen Hidari who deserves the most praise.  As a kind and wise old man who is merely passing through the shack, Hidari shows that he had more to offer then just the comic relief he provided in IKIRU and SEVEN SAMURAI.  Kamatari Fujiwara also scores as the drunken actor who cannot remember any of his famous speeches.  And four of five relatively unheralded members of Kurosawa's stock company steal the film near the end with a rhythmical nonsense song and dance celebrating their hopeless situation.  The film even ends on a hilarious punchline that, if it were in an American film, would have wound up on the AFI's 100 Years, 100 Quotes list.

     If you love Kurosawa and his hearty band of of homely, lovable actors, you will love this film.  - JB

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