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Dodesukaden: Did this kitchen need more cooks?

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    NoelCT

    I think I’m not alone in finding that the main problem with DODESUKADEN is that it never really comes together as a single story, instead spreading itself out with little tales and vignettes. I can literally picture Kurosawa as a cook running around a kitchen, preparing so many dishes that he never finds a theme. Let me ask, would it have worked better, this being the first production out of the gate for the Club of Four Knights, if they all came in together and actually made this more of an anthology flick with each filmmaker focusing on a specific nook of the junkyard? I honestly don’t know much about the other directors’ careers, so I’m curious to hear some thoughts on this.

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    Vili Maunula

    That’s a really good question, Noel. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the other directors’ output either, so I cannot really even begin to guess how a collaborative film might have turned out.

    But perhaps Kurosawa would have been hesitant to co-direct, had the idea ever been suggested to him? Neither of his two previous experiences had turned out well — he completely disowned Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946), while the Tora! Tora! Tora! project of just a year or so before Dodesukaden didn’t fare any better.

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    Ryan

    Kobayashi used colour greatly; Kwaidan (1964) is incredibly beautiful and uses a ranging colour palette with huge depth. Therefore I think he would have done a good job were he directing the film; no doubt the film would have been a lot more bleak and pessimistic though. He’s always compared with Kurosawa as well…so them working together would make for an interesting discussion.

    As for Ichikawa, I can’t really see him wanting to be involved with the film, judging by his own filmography and the themes he dealt with; mainly regarding pacifism and the human condition in postwar Japan. He, like Kobayashi, dealt with a lot of controversial and dark subject matter…Dodesukaden would be an interesting project were he onboard. Having said this, I’ve only seen 2 Ichikawa films; both of which are his most famous: Fires on the Plain (1959) and The Burmese Harp (1956).

    As for Kinoshita, I haven’t seen any of his films, though I do have Twenty-Four Eyes (1954) which is one of the most popular and criticially acclaimed Japanese films of all time.

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    Jeremy

    The imagine of the cook running around making various dishes with no direction is a nice comparison. I don’t however see an issue with a film coming into a area, presenting various parts of a people’s everyday life, and leaving with no real development or resolution. If the audience comes into the film as a wondering visitor, there is no reason to expect an impact to take place, or any characters belonging to this area, to act differently or develop a change. Audiences have perhaps come to expect, that they always walk right into an area as a spectacular situation occurs; it is nice to come in at time when nothing happens, just everyday life. It is a rare event anyways, when events in life get bounded with a theme, more often it’s just a bunch of running around making what you can as quickly as you can.

    The most under-appreciated aspect of this film, is the fact, we the audience manage to walk-in a strange area, and maintain such a low profile, we become ignore, to the point, the locals play you no mind, and go about life, as if you were never there. I find little more fascinating then the regular events of people, oppose to the change in behavior and habits when strangers, guest, come over and make themselves obvious, obtrusive to the point reality is distorted, and the gained impression of this new,strange area is even more distorted,untruthful. Or worse when a abnormal, spectacular event unfolds, changing everybody’s behavior.

    Having the other directors come into play, even if they kept to showing one part of the movie, avoiding any real story in regards to acts, development, resolution, the change in direction from each director, as I think Ryan did a nice job talking about, would go to create as a whole of the movie, a story, due to varying interpretation , rather then pieces of life contain within a localized area from the same, ignored, wondering passerby. This is to say, now a question comes into play when different directors come about- who is representing the bases for the lives of various people to be understood? If an impression of life is left with one person, by one director, and a different impression of another person, by another director, the varying interpretation may confuse how independent individuals deal with similar conditions, when the independent individual are subject to the different interpretations and as interpreters having experiencing different and small sections of the area.

    Somewhere in that mess of words, I’m simply saying, to understand how life is for many people in a the same area, one person most give the whole area a look over, and be witness to various people to give a true outcome. The same person gives all the pieces to the same puzzle, opposed to getting pieces from different puzzles, and forcing together into one.

    In Dodesukaden case, for the movie to be effective, with the usage of different directors, they most all take part in the entirely of the movie. Only then when each director has presented the full movie, can a comparative, and appreciation of perspective from each director be had. Of course the same movie done over many times, is simply impractical, however awesome it may be.

    I don’t know what I’m rambling about, but I like Dodesukaden. 😈

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    lawless

    Jeremy, it sounds like what you most appreciate about this film is that it gives us slices of life in a true, authentic manner that it doesn’t make it seem like we, the audience, are intruding or influencing what the characters do ro say. That sounds a lot like the avoidance of the problem with scientific observation because the fact that someone is observing itself changes the outcome. While popularly tagged the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, I think that’s a misnomer; the Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that we can’t know the exact location and velocity of a molecule at the same time. (I hope I got the details right; I never took physics.) Observation affecting the outcome of what’s observed bears a different name that I don’t recall.

    But anyway, I think the analogy holds, no matter what the underlying concept is called.

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    Ugetsu

    First of all, I haven’t actually seen Dodesukaden, so I can’t comment on the film directly, but…

    I remember years ago reading a snide little magazine article about David Bowie, accusing him of being a ‘creative vampire’ because of his work method of picking and choosing highly talented collaborators and dropping them as soon as he’d used all their best ideas. It was meant as a criticism, but at the time I thought that it simply indicated that Bowies greatest musical talent was seeing the talents of others, and using them to create records where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.

    I feel the same about Kurosawa. Maybe I’m over influenced by Teruyo Nogami’s description of his working methods, but I’ve thought of Kurosawa as someone who’s greatest single skill as a director was his ability to identify the most important elements of other peoples ideas, whether in script, camera position, editing, music, whatever, and so creating films that were greater than the sum of the parts, if you interpret the ‘parts’ as being all the creative ideas developed by him and his team. While I enjoy his earlier ‘small’ films and his later more personal projects, I can’t help thinking that they are nowhere near as rich as those films where he worked with multiple script writers and bigger budgets. I’ve always felt that it is this element which puts him higher (for me) higher in the pantheon of great film makers than those who (either because they weren’t very good at collaboration, or their egos didn’t allow for it), insisted on the ‘personal’ element of their visions, excluding other inputs. So when I read the title of this thread I thought ‘the more cooks in a Kurosawa film, the better, because nobody was better at extracting every good idea without losing the central narrative thread of a film’.

    But, of course, this isn’t what the thread is about!

    So, while I can’t comment on the film as a whole, I have a feeling Kurosawa would not have been comfortable having equal creative input to the other three directors – after all, if you share power, you are a Consul, not an Emperor, and we know what happened to Roman Consuls in the end.

    I think also its fair to say that multi director films don’t have a great record – I can’t off the top of my head think of any that really worked.

    As to the other directors – I think Kobayashi was the most similar to Kurosawa in terms of style and thematic concerns. He shared Kurosawa’s generally dim view of politics (he too was a lapsed left wing agitator), but I think he was generally a lot more pessimistic – he wasn’t as much of a humanist as Kurosawa. His Samurai movies are violent and engrossing, and technically top class. I haven’t seen his most important films – the Human Condition trilogy, but while they have been highly acclaimed, I think the critical consensus is that they just lacked that extra indefinable vision that Kurosawa or Mizoguchi would have brought to the script.

    Ichikawa was a great director – but he seems to have looked at life with an ironic eye that meant he never got too invested in a character or story. The interviews I’ve seen of him show someone with a really impish sense of humour, but maybe someone who didn’t take his own work too seriously. His work is highly uneven – some brilliant films (Fire on the Plains, An Actors Revenge), along with some real stinkers. I believe his documentaries were outstanding, so maybe Dodesukaden would have been his type of film. His wife and writing partner (and effectively co-Director) Natto Wada is attributed as having a better eye for the core of a story – quite simply she had better taste than him, so his work with her was much more consistent. But she had retired from writing sometime in the mid 1960’s – she said she was disenchanted with modern Japanese cinema (which always seemed an odd reason – if she was disenchanted, why didn’t she just try to make better films?). Stylistically, I don’t think anything he would have done would have matched what Kurosawa was doing. But his tremendous sense of fun and knowledge of the tackier side of Japanese culture (he loved Kabuki in the way Kurosawa loved Now) might have injected some real life into the film.

    I haven’t seen too many films by Kinoshita, but I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw. I think he was a bit of a superior quality hack – mainly popular with his contemporaries because he was so supportive of younger directors, including Kurosawa. His films were notoriously sentimental.

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    Ryan

    Ugetsu: Actually Kobayashi was very much a humanist. I wouldn’t say he wasn’t as humanistic as Kurosawa, especially given Kobayashi’s background and consistent filmography regarding such themes. The Human Condition trilogy is about as humanist as film can get. Kobayashi was well known for being a pacifist as well, having declined to be promoted above the rank of private in the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII.

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    cocoskyavitch

    NoelCT, good question. Answer: NO MORE COOKS! That turns a film into short stories. An example is the “exquisite corpse” omnibus Boccaccio ’70. It forces the viewer to pick a favorite segment or vignette, and is always unsatisfying, even if parts are appealing.

    I prefer Coffee and Cigarettes-the one-director, many vignettes thing-even Night on Earth, but even then the closure of each segment is annoying. I prefer a fluid, meandering, slice (lawless, point about the impossibility of an ominpotent view that does not affect the observed is noted, still, the convention of “fly-on-the-wall” works for me).

    What Jeremy and then, lawless point out is that Kurosawa was doing something a little less involved in plot or separate stand-alone storylines in Dodesukaden. Jeremy’s statement that he likes the film is so refreshing, opens up all kinda fresh air windows. Let’s face it-Dodesukaden is weighed down with attempted suicide, poor critical reception, box office failure baggage. And then, the material itself is troubling (I can recall the face of the blind father and son under garish green light as they hallucinate from food poisoning)!

    So, thanks, Jeremy for telling us what is good that you appreciate in the film. I like the film, too. Not a big fan of the structured omnibus or portmanteau in general, but do like this.

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    lawless

    BTW, Ugetsu and everyone else, I haven’t seen the movie yet either, but it’s on its way from Netflix.

    From what I know, I can’t predict my reaction. The stories sound pretty depressing, but I really liked The Lower Depths, which is probably the most similar other Kurosawa movie to this one.

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    Vili Maunula

    I just watched the “It’s Wonderful to Create” episode for Dodesukaden, and was surprised to hear how much of a laissez-faire attitude Kurosawa had when making the film. Actors recount how little guidance they got from Kurosawa, while crew members tell us how Kurosawa much of the time told them to do whatever they wanted, even letting them to go ahead and paint the sunset as they best see fit.

    So, Kurosawa apparently was in quite a collaborative mood. Maybe the co-directing idea could have worked in the end? At least he seemed less critical of others than usual. Nogami in fact mentions at the beginning of the episode that the whole project may have kick-started from Kurosawa’s decision to become a “simpleton” and simply take it easy for a change.

    Another thing that was mentioned, however, is that allegedly the Four Knights company was put together entirely for the sake of Kurosawa, to get him back on his feet after the two failures with Hollywood. If this is true (and I’ve read otherwise), perhaps the other directors wouldn’t actually have been interested in a collaboration, and were just happy to produce Kurosawa at this point.

    In any case, Dodesukaden was a real quickie project in the end. They spent only one third of the originally planned time writing the script, and the scheduled 44 shooting days were completed in 28. Throughout the episode, former crew members also keep remarking how happy Kurosawa seemed throughout the shoot, and indeed the video footage and pictures shown in the documentary display a director who is constantly smiling.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, I think the purpose, after the interminable Red Beard, was to prove he could do a film quickly, and less expensively. In fact, I think everything about the project was supposed to be “different”.

    Whether a collaboration “exquisite corpse” was possible…well…maybe it was. Would that have been better? I seriously doubt it.

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    NoelCT

    Wow. I’m glad my question brought about such great discussion.

    Vili: But perhaps Kurosawa would have been hesitant to co-direct, had the idea ever been suggested to him? Neither of his two previous experiences had turned out well — he completely disowned Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946), while the Tora! Tora! Tora! project of just a year or so before Dodesukaden didn’t fare any better.

    I could argue that he lacked much control over either project, the first due to its early point in his career and the second due to the Hollywood system, and that this might be different because it’s amongst peers, but you do raise a very good point.

    Jeremy: I don’t however see an issue with a film coming into a area, presenting various parts of a people’s everyday life, and leaving with no real development or resolution.

    You raise some fascinating points, Jeremy. Just to clarify, I do very much enjoy the film, with some of the stories being fantastic, the other vignettes interesting, and the explosion of color and technique stunning, it’s just that it never really comes together for me. It’s an experiment, and I can fully appreciate it as an experiment, though I strongly feel it lacks that connective thread that gives it a broader point. What, honestly, was the reason for telling these specific stories in this style? What was he trying to say or explore or teach or reveal? I get these answers from some of the stories, but not the broader work.

    My suggestion of making it a collaboration was that each could put their full focus on their own section instead of one director spreading himself thin over all these little bits. And I’m not in any way saying this would automatically make the film better, just curious about how it may make it different.

    Ugetsu: While I enjoy his earlier ‘small’ films and his later more personal projects, I can’t help thinking that they are nowhere near as rich as those films where he worked with multiple script writers and bigger budgets.

    More good points. While I think it should be acknowledge that Kurosawa is very talented in his own right, you’re spot on that he surrounded himself with other amazing talents, and I think that era from IKIRU to RED BEARD clearly distinguishes itself from the early years where he was still pulling the team together, and the later stretch where his collaborators were either dying or moving away.

    Cocoskyavitch: Answer: NO MORE COOKS! That turns a film into short stories.

    But isn’t that what this film already is?

    Vili: I just watched the “It’s Wonderful to Create” episode for Dodesukaden, and was surprised to hear how much of a laissez-faire attitude Kurosawa had when making the film.

    I still haven’t picked up the DVD yet, so thanks for the info, Vili. Interesting stuff about his attitude being so different from what we’ve gotten used to. I have to wonder if this was really a good thing, given how obviously broken his mental state became following the picture. Was he really in a loose, collaborative mood, or was he in the beginning stages of his break following the troubled years with Hollywood?

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    Jeremy

    Lawless: Jeremy, it sounds like what you most appreciate about this film is that it gives us slices of life in a true, authentic manner that it doesn’t make it seem like we, the audience, are intruding or influencing what the characters do ro say. That sounds a lot like the avoidance of the problem with scientific observation because the fact that someone is observing itself changes the outcome. While popularly tagged the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, I think that’s a misnomer; the Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that we can’t know the exact location and velocity of a molecule at the same time. (I hope I got the details right; I never took physics.) Observation affecting the outcome of what’s observed bears a different name that I don’t recall.

    But anyway, I think the analogy holds, no matter what the underlying concept is called.

    I get you, and that’s the jest of it-when it comes to people. Quantum mechanics however, well…like most things coming out of Copenhagen I don’t believe a bit of it. 😛 Everything you mention, is farther explain in the “Copenhagen Interpretation” that defends the very notion you’re talking about, and offers supporting scenarios. I don’t however believe the interpretation to even be close to truthful. This requires the notion that there is not fixed substances, and everything is a the mercy of randomness. This can be argued with little things, like if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Sure, such things like that can be debated to no end(even if I find the concept of the tree making no noise, extremely silly).

    However if you push this in to a more “real” scale, or in the case of human. You would then be implying, that just because I witness a group of people, hungry and desperate for food, the moment I left, they would suddenly change opposite of my observation, and no longer be hungry and desperate for food. The notion when brought to this scale is rather silly to consider to be true, and I doubt anyone would say otherwise. It’s a little more legit in quantum mechanics(or improperly termed quantum physics) since as we dive into the smallest depth of science and explore them in extreme depth, certain logic seems to break down, and for debatable reasons, and with most of them simply being entirely unknown.

    NocelCT:My suggestion of making it a collaboration was that each could put their full focus on their own section instead of one director spreading himself thin over all these little bits. And I’m not in any way saying this would automatically make the film better, just curious about how it may make it different.

    I agree, but then it requires ….

    NoelCT: What, honestly, was the reason for telling these specific stories in this style? What was he trying to say or explore or teach or reveal? I get these answers from some of the stories, but not the broader work.

    To which, you’re suggesting there has to be a reason, or teaching. This of course being ultimately the requirement for a good movie/story. And too would make the first quote hard to debate.

    In this case, if we are simply taking a unobtrusive peek into a new world, for what reasons, should we expect to gain any reason, or teaching from an unobtrusive peek into someone’s life? Is not a venture into curiosity enough at times? Surely we don’t always expect to walk away with something from everything we do, especially with a deep point, or lesson.

    I think I’m just arguing for the hell of it really. :mrgreen:

    Coco: Answer: NO MORE COOKS! That turns a film into short stories. An example is the “exquisite corpse” omnibus Boccaccio ’70. It forces the viewer to pick a favorite segment or vignette, and is always unsatisfying, even if parts are appealing.

    Coco: I prefer a fluid, meandering, slice

    Exactly 😎

    By the way, and just for curiosity, are there any paintings completed by having several artist work on the same painting?

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    cocoskyavitch

    NoelCT quoted:

    Cocoskyavitch: Answer: NO MORE COOKS! That turns a film into short stories.

    But isn’t that what this film already is?

    Answer: No, it isn’t.

    Dodesukaden is a fluid novel with one unifying thread: the boy and his imaginary trolley who travels this shared landscape. It would only make the film hackneyed to cut it up into diffently-directed sections, in my opinion. And, do I want to miss a minute of Kurosawa’s imagery? No thanks. A film does not have to be story-driven. It can be visual and have meaning~! I think Kurosawa is really freeing himself of his plot-driven way of creating, and depending on his visual imagination. It’s about as close to an expressionist painting as I’ve seen in film, and really, think about it-films like “The Taste of Tea” or “The Happiness of the Katamuras” use expressionist color, lighting and effects…in a way that makes Kurosawa’s experiment seem quite prescient!

    Jeremy! You said, “

    Exactly

    By the way, and just for curiosity, are there any paintings completed by having several artist work on the same painting?

    Well, every film is a collaboration, right? And, yes, there are lots of examples of art done by several artists! In fact, the funny thing is that, throughout art history, the rule is more often many cooks than one master chef. Egyptian art, the frieze sculptures of the Parthenon, and even Renaissance masterpieces were often the product of workshops. One of the reasons we know so few of the names associated with Gothic art is that it was done by many hands, and the purpose was to honor God, not gain fame. The whole fame thing was the Renaissance reinvention of the Roman idea. Blame Michelangelo.

    Good art can surely be done by a workshop, and, in essence, all films are. Of course, it is more expedient to have one “overseer”. In the case of film it is the director, but the producer plays quite a role, too right? In fact those battles for control are legendary.

    In the workshop, a “master craftsman” historically would have given direction. And, in lieu of a single “master craftsman”-a canon of proportions and forms was used-as in ancient Egyptian art.

    In the contemporary art world collaborations are often seen as a bit surprising, and yet, once you know the history of art-makes sense. I absolutely love the collaboration of Komar and Melamid

    And, the contemporary critic and painter Matt Collings makes paintings with Emma Biggs: http://www.emmabiggsandmatthewcollings.net/

    And, I guess that most “earthwork” and environmental art is collaborative. One famous couple (although Jeanne Claude just passed away) is Christo and Jeanne Claude: http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/si.shtml .

    Finally, almost all of Jeff Koon’s work is commercially contracted.

    There are more examples, but I digress. My original use of the term “exquisite corpse” refers the the Surrealist practice-and that’s not much the case today. But, you can find out more about it here!

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    cocoskyavitch

    Sorry, “Happiness of the Katakuris“. And, Jeremy, there is an academic investigation into the resurgence of the collaborative artistic effort: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_11_90/ai_94079415/.

    Haven’t any plans to read it, though.

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    Vili Maunula

    Noel: I have to wonder if this was really a good thing, given how obviously broken his mental state became following the picture. Was he really in a loose, collaborative mood, or was he in the beginning stages of his break following the troubled years with Hollywood?

    I actually see Kurosawa’s attempted suicide as a very rational action. Like he once suggested in an interview, there is the following mathematical equation to consider:

    AKIRAKUROSAWA – MOVIES = 0

    So, I can very well understand Kurosawa’s actions. He had basically done nothing but made movies his entire adult life, and then suddenly after Red Beard that didn’t seem to work out any longer. Once he got back behind the camera, Dodesukaden failed commercially. Really, at this point it looked like he would never make another film. That zero probably felt increasingly more like reality.

    Whether or not this is how it happened, I nevertheless find it quite difficult to see Dodesukaden as some sort of a prelude to “Kurosawa’s madness”.

    lawless: Heisenberg uncertainty principle

    That’s one way of labeling observation bias, but I would say that more applicable here are social science concepts like Reactivity and observer-expectancy effect.

    And perhaps Lawless is indeed onto something in bringing up observation bias in connection with Dodesukaden. As we have mentioned, Kurosawa was apparently quite open to others’ input throughout the making of the film. Perhaps you could say this was one way of downplaying his “observer effect”, and letting the film create itself, so to speak?

    Coco: NO MORE COOKS! That turns a film into short stories.

    Noel: But isn’t that what this film already is?

    Coco: No, it isn’t.

    I would actually agree with Noel here. I know how Coco hates it when I mix terms between literature and cinema, but I’m afraid that I have to do it again, as to me describing Dodesukaden as a “filmed collection of short stories” sounds quite right.

    I must further say that I don’t really see the connection that Coco and I have noticed some other critics describe, namely the trolley boy somehow being our guide through the entire film. For me, he is just another short story among many, albeit one that happens to begin and end the film. He is relatively absent from the middle, and not part of those stories in any way. For me, he is therefore simply the engine driver whose train first takes us into the town (his being the only line that serves the place), and then takes us back.

    I do however agree with Coco and Jeremy (and others) in that a film doesn’t need to be story driven, and that Dodesukaden certainly isn’t, and isn’t any worse for it. Something that I have actually been thinking about in these past few days is whether Dodesukaden is actually part of a larger trend in Kurosawa’s late career, which explored narration outside of traditional storytelling types that had been employed by cinema.

    Kurosawa of course played with narrative conventions throughout his career. While there are films with relatively straightforward story lines — Yojimbo and Sanjuro are good examples — there are also more complex ones. Rashomon is an obvious example, as is Ikiru. Throughout his career, Kurosawa also develops a knack for telling parts of his stories outside the camera. I have come to think of Seven Samurai as an especially good example of this, where just about all major events occur off screen, and those that occur in front of us are often obscured in one way or another.

    In any case, starting with High and Low, I feel that there is something different in how narration is handled. While you could say that in previous films narrative experimentation was employed to boost the stories in one way or another, I think this becomes less true of High and Low and the films that follow. Kurosawa is after something else.

    I find it difficult to say exactly what this means with the two-part structure of High and Low and how it differs from the structurally quite similar Ikiru, but with Red Beard we already have a film that is divided into numerous sections and which is constructed, in my eyes, very much like a novel. Red Beard of course still ties these vignettes and episodes under a common overall story and theme, but Dodesukaden does away with these (well, at least with the overall story).

    If you then think about the films that followed, Dersu Uzala is almost documentary in its execution, in some ways like Dodesukaden. Although we now again have a clear central character, the film is not necessarily much more cohesive (this is not a criticism against the film, however). Just like Dodesukaden, Dersu Uzala is as a slice of life, and life, like Jeremy mentioned, doesn’t always have a story to it.

    The events depicted in Kagemusha and Ran again seem detached from their stories — in both cases, the real story seems to have already happened, and we are only observing the fallout, and we do this from a distance. Dreams has no story at all, and is the ultimate short story collection from Kurosawa. In Rhapsody in August, the story has again already happened, long time ago, and we are again in a very documentary type world, more observing than narrating. Madadayo in contrast, despite being a biography, seems forward-looking, as if the real story was about to start, but never quite does.

    Admittedly, I haven’t fully developed my thoughts regarding what I want to say, but there is something in the films from High and Low onwards that have, with the lack of a better word, a very different “vibe” when it comes to their narrative ambitions. They are more pensive. More silently observing than actively (re)presenting.

    It is interesting to note, though, that in contrast with the films that he directed himself, both Ame agaru and The Sea Is Watching actually have relatively straightforward and simple stories. They both still have that pensive mood to them, but I would say that they are still quite story driven as well, certainly more so than anything Kurosawa directed after High and Low. Even considering the fact that Ame agaru ends without an actual ending, which is surprisingly post-modern of Kurosawa.

    Coco: Good art can surely be done by a workshop, and, in essence, all films are.

    Coco’s point that art is very often a collaborative effort is a good one. It is good to be reminded that something very postmodern like Andy Warhol’s Factory was in this sense nothing new. I guess we live in an era where notions of individualism and originality are more valued, even demanded, than before, and so we tend to look for those celebrities, primary movers, and whatnot.

    In any case, I whole-heartedly agree with Ugetsu when he suggests that Kurosawa’s greatest skill (well, in addition to that eye of his) was his ability to take people and ideas, combine them, and create something far greater than the sum of their parts.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Oh, I would say that the main character in Dodesukaden may well be the dump itself, with the trolley boy as “vehicle”-literally-into and out of that world.

    Vili said,

    “I would actually agree with Noel here. I know how Coco hates it when I mix terms between literature and cinema, but I’m afraid that I have to do it again, as to me describing Dodesukaden as a “filmed collection of short stories” sounds quite right.”

    I don’t mind you making comparisons between literature and film, Vili! Your knowledge and opinion is always valuable!

    But, I think the work has more to do with an expressionist tone poem than collection of short stories. Dreams is the ultimate Kurosawa “collected short stories”. And, it is probably the ugliest and messiest of his films. I have grown to very nearly hate it, although I still love Kurosawa, and feel like a traitor saying that.

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    NoelCT

    I just gave the film a fresh watch and have to change my opinion. It is marvelous and, if one accepts the disparate nature of the stories, it does work. I think the problem I and a lot of others had was that very acceptance. Kurosawa, especially during his golden years, had gained a reputation as a meticulously tight filmmaker, one where every single moment or line contributed to the broader narrative, and here we suddenly found a film where there was no broader narrative, where entire sequences were branching tangents instead of contributing strands.

    I guess this is the situation any creator faces when trying something so new, so different, after having already built a ‘dedicated’ audience. Is it a fair reaction? No, but it is interesting how often we see chunks of fans of any creator go up in arms when things are stirred up, only accepting such things in hindsight, if at all.

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    Ugetsu

    I guess this is the situation any creator faces when trying something so new, so different, after having already built a ‘dedicated’ audience. Is it a fair reaction? No, but it is interesting how often we see chunks of fans of any creator go up in arms when things are stirred up, only accepting such things in hindsight, if at all.

    I think its an interesting point that the negative reaction to the film might have had more to do with preconceptions among the audience and critics than any merits the film has (and sorry to say I haven’t seen it yet). I think one of the negative aspects of auteur theory is that films tend not to be seen as discreet works of art to be enjoyed, but in the context of the film maker and his oevre. I suspect that if a then fashionable film maker had directed the film, then everyone would have embraced it as a radical statement, a cutting edge experiment. But as it was the then unfashionable Kurosawa, it was seen as a fall from grace. In her book on Seven Samurai Joan Mellen has an interesting account of visiting Japan for the first time and attending a conference with the top Japanese critics and film makers at the time – she recounts her surprise at the intensity of hatred the expressed at Kurosawa and his works. I suspect that it doesn’t matter what Kurosawa made at the time, it would have been negatively recieved whatever he did, and given the commercial slump at the time its unsuprising that anything that wasn’t a crowd pleaser was doing to fail at the box office.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Don’t you think Red Beard was, in fact, the beginning of the Omnibus approach that finds a loud, abrasive and powerfully expressionist voice with only a “vehicle” to tie it all together in Dodesukaden?

    I’m suggesting that Red Beard is the beginning of something, not the end.

    And, I am delighted to hear you say NoelCT that a repeat viewing changed your evaluation of Dodesukanden. That’s awesome! Ugetsu said

    …”the negative reaction to the film might have had more to do with preconceptions among the audience and critics than any merits the film has… “

    Yup. I think that is spot-on.

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    NoelCT

    Coco, while a bit looser structurally, with a distinct chapter style, I still found Red Beard to be a tight film where the various patients and stories were still firmly tied to the central growth of the young doctor. It actually reminded me a bit of Kurosawa’s earlier films, with the episodic style really not that different from IKIRU.

    I’ll admit, though, that that’s another film I need to watch again.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: I suspect that it doesn’t matter what Kurosawa made at the time, it would have been negatively recieved whatever he did

    I’m travelling and don’t have my books (or a proper internet connection) with me, but wasn’t Dodesukaden actually among the top films of the year as listed by Kinemajunpo? I seem to remember that it also won a number of awards abroad.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu said,

    I still found Red Beard to be a tight film where the various patients and stories were still firmly tied to the central growth of the young doctor.

    I agree. Tight. But, a direction. A tendency that finds fuller expression in Dodesukaden. I mean, Red Beard actually has little Mifune. He’s missing from all kinds of key threads. Also missing from some key developkments is the young doctor. I think in Red Beard Kurosawa is experimenting with cinema without a central main character and story arc.

    Just my opine.

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    NoelCT

    Ah, I see what you mean now, Coco. I agree.

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    Vili Maunula

    I’ve been thinking about Red Beard in similar terms to Coco’s — perhaps an end in some ways, but also a beginning in others. But do you think you could also say that Red Beard was actually only a part of that transition towards “omnibus” narration, which perhaps already began to formulate with High and Low?

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    cocoskyavitch

    …a part of that transition towards “omnibus” narration, which perhaps already began to formulate with High and Low?

    In fact, we can look to Rashomon as well- talk about multiple story lines, right? K was on to something, and it took different forms, yeah, and it was THERE in the wings in oh so many ways but I see Red Beard as both the end of something, and beginning of something-

    I cannot help but see it as a crisis point-more that Dodesukaden.

    I mean crisis in this way:

    a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, esp. for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.

    And, now that I have said it, maybe it is too strong. Although, maybe not. Somebody show me the light, please. Jeremy? Vili?

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    Jeremy

    Despite popular opinion, I do not contain god-like powers, so light too escapes me. I know it maybe hard to believe, giving just how awesome I am, but the truth is now reveled. 😛

    Actually, I got lost in this conversation long ago, I’ve been hoping someone would dumb it down so I can understand. 😕

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ha! Or else we get as smart as you, Jeremy ! If anything important had been said, you would have jumped in!

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    Jeremy

    Yeah! Really! How could anything ever be too smart for me, the mere notion of the idea is beyond ridiculous. I mean, I didn’t barely pass high school, it was that high school barely passed me. :mrgreen:

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    dylanexpert

    To get back to the question of “The Four Knights,” and how the film might have turned out if all four directors had taken on certain segments…

    I’ve seen quite a lot of Kinoshita, some of Ichikawa and some of the best of Kobayashi, and I think I can say:

    – Kinoshita’s segment would have been meticulously crafted and very sentimental;

    – Kobayashi’s segment would contain magnificent compositions and be extremely pessimistic in tone;

    – Ichikawa’s segment would be cooly detached in tone and funny in offbeat ways.

    So, since Dodesukaden is…

    meticulously crafted

    sentimental

    beautifully composed

    pessimistic

    detached

    funny and

    very offbeat…

    we might say that Kurosawa pre-empted a collaboration by incorporating all his colleagues traits into one (very strange) film.

    By the way, my understanding is that all four of the “knights,” instead of wanting to collaborate on one film, wanted to make their own films under the banner of their production company. However, they decided to let Kurosawa go first, as he had the biggest name and a film by him seemed a sure thing… a strategy which of course backfired. The Four Knights never made another picture.

    By the way, it was chosen the third best film of 1970 in the Kinema Junpo poll, so it was obviously not without its critical admirers in Japan.

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    Jeremy

    Kinema Junpo is hardly proof of Dodesukaden’s acceptance, a Japanese film winning a reward from Kinejun is like a 3rd place win in a 4 film festival. Kinejun in the 70’s was still a hard study into foreign films, and a critical one of Japanese, any film Kinejun was rewarding was from those that they felt broke away enough from it Japaneseness, and close into that of foreign methodology. The Pure Film Movement was still a goal of Kinema Junpo, and was rewarding films for being more Westernized, and not on the bases of it’s success and acceptance in Japan.

    If anything, I would suggest, a Dodesukaden win from Kinejun is proof of it’s general negative reception in Japan. One simply follows the winner choices of Kinejun up to the 1990’s to see how often they choose films that go against anything that resembles Japanese styling, many of those not well received locally.

    After Japan established itself more global, then Kinema Junpo changed direction and started to promote the older Japanese styling of film making, to the point they cross over extremely, and declare Seven Samurai the greatest film ever. I believe now their focus is largely in anime that mixed western and Japanese traditions, with a primary focus on American films, if although their main stories are of whichever big budget Japanese film is approaching release.

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    dylanexpert

    Jeremy:

    I know that the publication was very Western-oriented, but I never heard of this rationale before. However, most of the late-period films of the aging Yasujiro Ozu (than whom there could hardly be any director more Japanese, though he had been rather American-oriented in his youth) appeared on the lists, and two of them, 1949’s Late Spring and 1951’s Early Summer, topped the poll. These and other facts would seem to argue against your reading of Kinema Junpo’s award decisions. Perhaps they wanted to protest against the movie’s box-office failure, but not because they considered it “Western” (actually, I’ve never seen any Western film quite like it).

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    Jeremy

    A poor means of explaining myself, I was regarding Japaneseness more in the sense of dramatic approaches nearing the theatrics of noh, and kabuki, and not a movie rid of Japanese elements. Ozu is indeed extremely Japanese, but his movies don’t follow the traditional aspects of Japanese story telling, to say they are more western in approach, if although still completely Japanese in story.

    The point being Kinema Junpo was often rewarding works that abandon traditional dramatics of Japanese storytelling, giving praises to the lack of traditional Japanese methods of storytelling, oppose to the actual movie’s value. Of course this is a bit generic, and Ozu is always an exception of generics, to whom in this case transcended both non-traditional Japanese methods, with deep Japanese story line, both done perfection to had as great cinematic values.

    If the argument is that Dodsukaden had good fanfare, simply based on a Kinema Junpo reward; I would beg reconsideration, as that often the choices for Kinema Junpo were not films that respond well to Japanese citizens- to whom still expected, and navigate to more traditional means of storytelling telling- but films that could be labeled nontraditional.

    I would think especially so during the 1970s, when Japan went through it’s most awkward phase of modernization in war with traditional practices, and by and large had the larger populist of none-urbanized Japanese responding more to tradition.

    But I very well maybe wrong, it’s fits with my tradition. 😀

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    cocoskyavitch

    …Ozu is indeed extremely Japanese…

    What the hell does that mean? Kurosawa is also extremely Japanese. Man, that is one tired argument that I thought we had put to bed already….

    we have “traditional” and we have non-traditional, but to question Kurosawa’s Japanese-ness is to invalidate any artist with an interest in culture outside of Japan-which means that only the most navel-gazing is Japanese? I repudiate, deny, and argue against such a narrow definition of Japan and “Japanese”.

    I love your posts, Jeremy and this isn’t meant as a personal attack-it’s my anger against the way that language slips out and continues to infect attitudes and thinking.

    Let me give you an analogy: Everybody knows that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel lying flat on his back…except, it isn’t true. We actually have his drawings of the scaffolding and a self-portrait standing. We also have a poem he wrote comnplaining about how terrible the strain was on his back, and how he stumbled about looking up.

    But, nevermind all that, people still believe he painted while lying down, because once that bit of crap was circulated it became more convincing than reality.

    I think “Ozu is the most “Japanese” is pure blather. In any other culture we would describe conservativism as what it is and not give it the kind of ridiculous validation implied in saying “Ozu is the most Japanese filmmaker”.

    Sorry for the rant.

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    Jeremy

    You like to make me cry don’t you?

    But you’re right, although I wasn’t making any suggestions that Kurosawa was less Japanese then anyone else or Ozu is more pure.

    I was simply using extremely Japanese to sum up Ozu films being often deeper in Japanese customs. Kurosawa without at all suggesting being any lesser a Japanese, didn’t have any films so deep in Japanese customs that anyone from any part of the world couldn’t understand the film in majority. Ozu on the other hand wasn’t always the case and has even been problematic for the more modernized Japanese.

    I too for certain have never suggested Kurosawa’s interest in other cultures, was a sign of his abandonment of being Japanese. While as well never coming to any conclusion Kurosawa was ever attempting to be anything other then Japanese. His interest and knowledge of a world outside Japan has made him the better director, and not gone to reduce any Japaneseness.

    Still, I can’t deny the error in using “more Japanese” or “Japaneseness” as a shortcut. If I can fight the power of my laziness, I’ll use more accurate and correct means of expressing the difference in Ozu and Kurosawa without there being room to wrongly interrupt one being more pure then the other.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I must have been in a very protective mood about Kurosawa that day, Jeremy. I think the stinking AK100 mess put me in a bad frame of mind.

    And, I am too lazy to take anyone to task without running the risk of getting called out myself! Generally, as you know, I have the highest opinion of your understanding of the many aspects of film and filmmaking, Jeremy.

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    Jeremy

    I’m not seeking any means of an apology,not that I assume you were offering, everything you said is truth; I’m surprised I’m not called out more often for the garbage I write begin with.

    And it’s not as though I don’t call out people myself, just on this forum, I try to be nice, plus everyone here while I can disagree with often, never post anything ridiculous(minus me perhaps). Elsewhere however I love calling out people, I’m known to resort to cussing, and name calling, as we all know the most reasonable and intelligent people cuss, and name call at the slightest provocation. 😉

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    cocoskyavitch

    Jeremy, 😉

    So, back to the kitchen and cooks premise of this thread: I was for no more cooks. The dish Kurosawa served up was spicy enough for me, with enough varied flavors as to be memorable still, years after the initial viewing/tasting.

    If, for example, the kitchen had provided a “progressive dinner” in which a cook prepared an appetizer, then another did the entree, another did a side dish, someone else provided dessert-that would have been less satisfying for me, because what I like, partly, is not the food itself as anisolated thing-it is the relationship of the cook to the food to the ambience to the progression of dishes…

    in short, I am a big fan of the cook as director as auteur. That’s probably my hero-worship Western upbringing. Geeky little first-generation American girl that read biographies of Michelangelo in bed as a kid, and went to sleep to dream about his accomplishments.

    I’m a big Kurosawa fan. In work that is by its very nature collaborative, I like a strong personality and presence at the helm-or at the stove or whatever.

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    lawless

    Having just watched Dodesukaden, this thread seems like the most appropriate place to note my thoughts.

    My reaction was more like NoelCT‘s orignal one, sans the thoughts about turning the film into a collaboration. I agree with Coco that such an endeavor would only have succeeded in creating an even more diffuse and loosely-focused movie. Though it had an overarching setting and recurring characters, there was no overall story arc that unified the stories of the various characters into whose lives we glimpsed, unless you want to call the varying ways they dealt with their lot an overarching theme. You couldn’t even say the overarching theme was despair, as not all the outcomes were bad;

    Some of the acting and set decorating choices were difficult to get used to, particularly in the beginning. The oversaturated primary colors made it look, especially at first, like a live action PBS children’s show, which to me conveys amateurishness. Rokuchan and his non-naturalistic style of acting was made me cringe at first until I got used to him. The fact that what he does amounts to mime didn’t help. By the time he stops to scold the artist for sitting in the middle of the track, though, I had accepted his reality for my own.

    The scenes with the beggar and his son were also hard to watch, in part because the execution of the appearance of the gate seemed hokey and contrived. The house seemed less so. I loved the scenes with just the son, and some of the scenes with the father and son were lovely and well-written; however, their whole arc was so heart-breaking and frustrating that it was painful to watch.

    Probably my favorite scenes were those involving Tanba. He was almost an eminence grise floating above everything. In some ways, he reminded me of Kambei in his wisdom and acceptance of everything. (Probably in that respect he also resembles the lead in The Idiot, based on what little I remember of the novel.)

    I would have liked more of Ryotaro’s story; I almost felt like we never got enough context to figure out for ourselves what to think about the situation. I liked the scenes with Shima and his wife, though; I’m not as rude as she is (I hope!), but I rather enjoyed her dressing down the vegetable seller. Though he doesn’t elaborate, I get his point that she’s had to put up with a lot by staying with him, and I admire him for cutting her some slack as a result.

    Also, the actor playing Kyota (Katsuko’s uncle) was very good; I laughed at the anecdote from It is Wonderful to Create about the actor thinking that Kurosawa didn’t like him because he kept glowering at him, and Kurosawa’s explanation that he glowered at the actor because of the excellence of his portrayal of a despicable human being.

    There were lots of memorable individual scenes, but on the whole, I found the movie too disparate and fragmented to be truly enjoyable or to rank in the top tier of Kurosawa films for me. Even the setting wasn’t used fully in that there were no scenes of community other than the gathering of the women (all marginal characters who we don’t see otherwise, with one or two exceptions) at the water pump. Maybe it’s the translation, but the writing didn’t feel as sharp to me as in his other movies either.

    While the best parts of the movie were more enjoyable than, say, The Hidden Fortress, which I tend to think of as a well-made B/action movie with flashes of brilliance, the parts I disliked most, or which made me cringe, were harder to take than the fire dance in The Hidden Fortress, which for me is the pinnacle of cheese in Kurosawa’s movies. Also, I found it hard to watch the entire movie in one sitting, and I’m not sure how I would have felt about it if I’d seen it in a movie theatre. I much prefer The Lower Depths (which I like better than many of the rest of you do), which has a smaller cast sharing living quarters, not just a scattered community, and an overarching theme (delusion vs. reality), over Dodesukaden.

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for your thoughts, lawless!

    The oversaturated primary colors made it look, especially at first, like a live action PBS children’s show, which to me conveys amateurishness.

    I can certainly understand you reaction here. The colours do take some getting used to, and I remember that my reaction was quite similar when I first saw the film. And I saw it from a washed-up VHS tape, not the new Criterion DVD.

    I wonder if our reaction to the colours would have been different had we first seen Dodesukaden in 1970. Perhaps time (and the better quality of newer film stocks) hasn’t been entirely kind to Kurosawa’s colour experiment here, although I must say that over the years since my initial viewing of Dodesukaden, my problems with the colour palette have disappeared. I really love the new Criterion print and how it emphasised (compared to other prints I have seen) the colours.

    the fire dance in The Hidden Fortress, which for me is the pinnacle of cheese in Kurosawa’s movies

    I think you have mentioned this before, so I may already have commented to it, but I find it interesting that you view the fire dance scene in this way. For me, it is one of the high points of The Hidden Fortress.

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    lawless

    The fact that I’m not all that fond of primary colors probably contributes to my reaction here. I give mad props to Rokuchan’s mother for putting up with his decorating the walls of the main room of their home with his drawings, because even by the end of the movie, that room was still too ‘loud’ and aggressively colorful for me. 🙂

    Someone made that point about my reaction to fire dance in The Hidden Fortress before; it must have been you, though I don’t recall offhand who it was. It may be the length of the scene and its portentousness that drives my response to it; I also think the montage of Mifune’s Stray Dog character searching the rundown, ‘bad’ side of town for his missing gun lasts longer than is necessary — a minority view in this company, I realize from previous discussions. The nightclub act in Drunken Angel doesn’t bother me though, even though on many levels it is laughable, and thus also cringeworthy, because its laughable nature is part of the point.

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    NoelCT

    My reaction was more like NoelCT’s original one, sans the thoughts about turning the film into a collaboration.

    Just to clarify, I never really thought one way or another that that would make for a better film, but given that they did all collaborate (largely successfully) on DORA-HEITA, I just wanted to raise the question and hear what others had to say. And, boy, you all had some fascinating stuff to say. 😀

    I pretty much agree with all of your comments Lawless, except the colors. It was Kurosawa’s first time out the gate with this technique and I was fascinated with the pastel explosion he gave us. A little too much? Maybe. But quite striking nonetheless.

    I think, though, that the general consensus from the others is that this is a film that grows with multiple viewings and, as my first and so far only time – as with Vili – was on a washed-out VHS, I’m very curious to give the DVD a viewing. Maybe I’ll agree with the others that, instead of hurting the film, the disparate nature of the stories and themes is its true appeal. We’ll see.

    And I’m with Vili on the Fire Dance. It starts as a wonderful comical plot twist, then becomes one of those great Kurosawa moments where the characters just get to cut loose and have a bit of fun.

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    cocoskyavitch

    NoelCT saiys:

    And I’m with Vili on the Fire Dance. It starts as a wonderful comical plot twist, then becomes one of those great Kurosawa moments where the characters just get to cut loose and have a bit of fun.

    Me too! LOVE the fire dance, and love seeing Mifune in it! Just love the whole night of dancing and singing and the morning ashes being combed through in misty dawn light in the forest.

    But, lawless, I’ with you on The Lower Depths. It’s a masterful, brilliant work! I cannot imagine how Donald Richie can complain that “The Idiot” is just the book, filmed, and not complain about The Lower Depths in the same way. I’ve said that before, so I better shut up.

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    lawless

    Coco – Maybe Richie’s issue has more to do with the transition from a novel, which can delve into a character’s inner thoughts, to a film, which can’t deal with such things equally as well? After all, The Lower Depths was a play first. Perhaps Richie wasn’t surprised to see it transferred to the screen more or less intact, whereas he felt The Idiot needed to be adapted more to work as a film.

    For some reason, the musical scenes in The Lower Depths amuse me a great deal.

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    cocoskyavitch

    You are probably right about the adaptation from novel v.s. play, lawless.

    For some reason, the musical scenes in The Lower Depths amuse me a great deal.

    I know! Right?!!! In the final music and dance scene I think I jumped up with “WHAT???!!!???”

    It was so incredibly unexpected, joyous, ridiculous, funny and delightful! I still get a kick out of it, just thinking about it! At the same time the pathos of the fat guy with his infected arm, and the rest of them…like a danse macabre, or dancing at the edge of a grave. Such an amazing scene, poised at the edge of death, right? Then, we get the news.

    One of my favorite films, ever!

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    NoelCT

    I know what you mean, coco. Those final few minutes of LOWER DEPTHS are my absolute favorite final few minutes of any film. From the film’s greatest high to its deepest low and BAM we’re done.

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