Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 16: Mon Jan 16

Dodes'ka-den (Kurosawa, 1970): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 6.05pm

This 35mm presentation, also screening on January 15th, is part of the Akira Kurosawa season. You can find the full details here.

Chicago Reader review:
Dodes’ka-den (1970) might be described as Akira Kurosawa’s most Italian film. The exuberant, if grimy, depiction of lower-class life sometimes recalls Pier Paolo Pasolini, while the episodic structure, broad humor, and sentimentality evoke the films of Federico Fellini. And for some of the exterior shots, Kurosawa and crew members painted their physical surroundings so that they would appear especially colorful, a technique that Michelangelo Antonioni had tried out in Red Desert (1964). Yet for all these commonalities, Dodes’ka-den remains intensely personal; its central theme of finding refuge in dreams reflects the joy Kurosawa experienced in making movies. It’s not a perfect work—some of the episodes feel simplistic or overly sentimental—but it contains enough splendorous moments to make it worth seeing, especially on celluloid.

The film takes place in a shantytown constructed on a garbage dump on the outskirts of Tokyo. It has no principal character but rather alternates between several stories about the town’s various inhabitants. In one, a pair of housewives, fed up with their drunk husbands, switch places, only to find their spouses don’t even notice. In another, a kindly doctor convinces a desperate man not to commit suicide. Some characters, like a developmentally disabled teenage boy who spends his days pretending to be a trolley conductor, never leave the shantytown; others, like a jobless father and his young son, venture into the city to beg for food. The latter characters pass the time imagining the mansion they hope to live in (which Kurosawa realizes in cutaway shots), and this motif rhymes with the teenager’s dream of driving a trolley.

Kurosawa identifies certain characters with individual hues (the swapping wives are identified with yellow and red, for instance), and the film is rife with primary colors. At the same time, Dodes’ka-den contains many muted colors as well: in fact, they often compete for one’s attention in the same shot as bold colors. Kurosawa doesn’t always seem in control of the color scheme of the movie; he just wants to use as many colors as he can. In this regard, one might appreciate Dodes’ka-den as an experimental film as well as a narrative one.
Ben Sachs

Here (and above) is the trailer.

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