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Currently playing at the AK film club: Ran (Kurosawa 1985)

Akira Kurosawa Film Club #11: Dersu Uzala

Dersu UzalaThe month has changed again it seems, and so the focus of the Akira Kurosawa Online Film Club shifts to the next film on the list. Marked for March is Kurosawa’s 1975 venture to Siberia, the much praised Dersu Uzala.

The film, which won the 1975 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, was the only movie that Kurosawa filmed outside of Japan. It is based on the accounts of the turn of the century Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev, who wrote about his unique relationship with Siberia and one of its more curious inhabitants, the Nanai hunter Dersu Uzala. If you would like to familiarise yourself more with Arsenyev’s work, there is a fairly comprehensive multilingual website dedicated to Dersu Uzala.

As always, you can take a look at the DVD section for information about various releases of the movie, while the book section lists the primary literature dealing with Kurosawa’s works.

And the place for discussion, of course, is over at the forums.



Discussion: 12 Comments »



The link to the multilingual Dersu Uzala site provides some wonderful images of Arsenyev and Uzala-
Thumbs up!




I have been looking through the site to find our expert from Russia…I have completely blanked on where he is, in the introduction, or elsewhere….but, I had been looking forward to him startingthe discussing on Dersu Uzala, since he is from Arseniev’s town, and the story is part of his lived, shared heritage!
Anybody point me in the right direction?



Vili Maunula

Is this what you were looking for, Coco?




Yes, Vili! It’s Yuri! Do you have any way to write to Yury to tell him, we are waiting to hear from him? I think it is amazingly cool to have him as a resource! So many questions I would love to ask:
1. Is Teryu Nogami’s description of the film location accurate? What more could you tell us about the site so that it seems more real for us?
2. What are the misconceptions one might have about the region, if one has not traveled there?
3. What is the education level of the people?
4. Are there still folks like Dersu alive? Have they abandoned their traditional ways?

Oh, there are so many things I would like to know!



Vili Maunula

Coco: Do you have any way to write to Yury to tell him, we are waiting to hear from him? I think it is amazingly cool to have him as a resource! So many questions I would love to ask

That’s a good idea, Coco! I just dropped an email to Yury now.




Hello Coco and Vili,

Glad to be back. I am not the ultimate authority on any of these questions. I’ll share with you what I have learned myself.

It appears that there’s not one, but many sites which were used for filming different fragments of Dersu all over the area. I read that Kurosawa first hoped to be able to follow the traces of Arseniev’s expeditions which became the book on which the film is based. It turned out to be impossible. That area is not easy to access even these days. The region where it all happened is called “Primorsky Krai” which can be translated as “Maritime territory”. Vladivostok is the administrative capital of the region. I come from a small village called Grodekovo which is located 244 km north-east of Vladivostok. It’s the place where Dersu (the real person) used to spend his winters. There are mentions of the village in the book. My grandfather used to tell me that he remembered a nanai (or golde as he is often referred in Russian) hunter who stayed in Grodekovo.

The closest city to the village is named after Arseniev,133.285446&spn=0.169184,0.30899&t=h&z=12
It was one of the points of Arseniev’s expedition where he met Dersu. In Arseniev (the city) there’s a very moving monument to Arseniev the explorer and Dersu. I took this photo in 2007

Back to film sites. The one of the most captivating scenes of the film when Dersu and Arseniev get stranded over night near the lake during a blizzard was filmed at the actual location of the event i.e. near the lake Khanka which is on the border with China here,2.350987&sspn=0.155185,0.30899&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=9&iwloc=addr

The scene which was filmed near my village involved a tiger. My information comes from my mother. She and my father witnessed the filming in 1974, the year of my birth. I am a photographer now. My newest photo project is called “The deleted scene” and I make references to this episode. You’ll find it here

The movie captures very well the spirit of the taiga which defines the existence of people in that corner of the world even today. It’s a more enchanted version of it, but firmly based on reality. It’s interesting, but in my numerous wanderings all over the world has become a permanent link to my home. I now live and work in Paris, France. Every time I get a bit homesick, I put the DVD with Dersu to see the nature and the landscapes which I knew so well.

I’ll try to come back and write more later. Thank you and a bientot, Yury




Yury-great images and so amazing to think about your connection with the land and with the film! Thank you so much for posting.

It is particularly fascinating to me that you had an exhibition “The House of Baba Yaga”-those stories of Baba Yaga were riveting to me as a kid. My first trip to Russia, all I wanted was to buy lacquer boxes with images of Baba Yaga’s house with its chicken legs!
Your images are wonderful, and anything you have to post will be valuable!



Vili Maunula

Yury, thank you so much for your post, and all the links. Your personal history with the film is heart-rendering.

Can you tell us more about “The Deleted Scene”?

Yury: In Arseniev (the city) there’s a very moving monument to Arseniev the explorer and Dersu. I took this photo in 2007

That monument is hauntingly beautiful, and the angle from which you have taken the picture makes it even more so. Thank you again for sharing!




Coco, thank you for your comments. I am glad you are familiar with the Baba Yaga stories. I hope to be able to come back here again to try answer your other questions about the area and the people.

Vili, thanks for taking the time and checking out my web site. I am hoping to exhibit “The Deleted scene” at some point in a gallery here in Paris. That’s the reason there’s only one photo from the series on the web site right now. There’ll be more once the exhibition opens. I shot the series last year. I used the 65 mm panoramic film camera which bears a strong reference to Kurusawa’s 70 mm Sovscope format he used to film Dersu Uzala.

The monument to Dersu and Arseniev was built on a hill overlooking the city. It’s a place that appears in each and every wedding album in the region because the monument is the most popular photo spot for the newly weds.



Jeremy Quintanilla

Fantastic information Yury and your connection to the film is-to take from Vili- heart-rendering.

Out of curiosity, you used a 65mm medium format still life camera?
(what a “film camera” is, seems to be different from country to country)
If I’m not mistaking 70mm Sovscope is really 65mm of print and 5mm of audio, giving the ability to make the exact scope of Derzu Uzala.

With only taking this into account, it makes your possible “The Deleted Scene” exhibit greatly fascinating, not to mention the greater back story.




Yury, it is really quite wonderful to have your input. I saw your work on Saatchi Online, and that you were chosen as a critic’s choice. I really love the Baba Yaga images, and the sweetness of the “Sleep” series.

How is it for you with Saatchi? Does it help?




Jeremy, thanks! I used Mamiya 7II medium format camera which has a panoramic adaptor. It allows the use of the regular (24×36 mm) film as panoramic. It makes negatives with 24×65 mm effective image area. I think you might be right about the Sovscope. It might be the same format indeed. To be verified.

Coco, yeah Saatchi’s piece was a big help. I posted some of my photos on their web site and they somehow noticed them. It was very nice of them. This little blurb opened other doors.


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