Dodes’ka-den (1970)

Or, the point at which it really turned to shit for Akira Kurosawa. Regarded with mistrust by the Japanese industry, buffeted by Hollywood bullshit over Tora Tora Tora, returning to Japan to find the industry dying in the arse thanks to the rise of TV, he formed his own company with Kon Ichikawa, Masaki Kobayashi and Keisuke Kinoshita on the assumption that they were prestigious enough names to draw investors while the rest of the industry was collapsing. They were wrong about this, and Kurosawa would attempt suicide the next year after this film failed. Mind you, it’s hard to imagine how he thought this would be a commercial success. His first colour film was a suitably bold and at times artificial-looking tale of Tokyo slum dwellers, which theme he’d handled before (The Lower Depths) but then he was working from Gorky, here’s it’s someone else’s stories… and lots of them intercut with each other. This bordered on an experimental film for Kurosawa, who’d alienated his long-standing star Toshiro Mifune and composer Masaru Sato, and unfortunately I don’t think that the experiment was a success (especially not Toru Takemitsu’s score, which irritated the crap out of me); the sheer weight of characters—not all of whom are, frankly, of equal interest—and lack of focus on any particular one means the whole thing ends up somewhat adrift without direction, and is a pretty hard slog over 140 minutes; it gets somewhat better in the second half as the disparate story threads all come to their conclusion, but none of them really come together; it’s not even episodic so much as it is anecdotal and fragmented. I liked the old fellow, Tanba, who serves as some sort of Zen patriarch for this odd “community”, and suspect the film might better have focused on him.

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