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aka - Dodeskaden
Japan 1970
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
140 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Kurosawa's first colour film is a remarkable effort that treats social realist subject matter with heightened theatricality (the stage sets were painted by the director himself) in a mix which will throw some people off, particularly given the film's challengingly lengthy running time. Kurosawa had a career-long sympathy for society’s marginalised, with Drunken Angel (1948) and The Lower Depths (1957) a rendition of a Maxim Gorky play, also both being, like this, set in a Tokyo slum. When the film flopped, both at the box office and critically, the director spiralled into serious depression.

Dodes’Ka-den interweaves the stories of a group of shanty-town dwellers living on Tokyo's outskirts The title refers to a simple-minded adolescent who pretends to be a trolley-car driver, "dodes'ka-den, dodes'ka-den" being the sound he makes as he plays acts his part. The other characters are a father and son who live in the shell of a car, the father fantasizing about the dream house he is going to build, a man traumatized into silence by the infidelity of his wife, a pair of wife-swapping rouseabouts and a group of women who sit around gossiping about their neighbours, a lowly office worker with an outrageous combination of a limp and a tic, and a young girl who makes paper flowers all day to fund her abusive step-father’s drinking. Finally, providing a counter-point to the squalor and misery is an elderly gentleman who one cannot help but identify with the director himself. The lives of these various characters unfold in what is largely a very sombre portrait of their lot although one which respects their integrity and ultimately there is a wry or perhaps Zen-like acknowledgement that through it all the trolley car of life continues its ritualized round.




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