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Dodesukaden: Role Reversals

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    Vili Maunula

    There appears to be a motive in Dodesukaden which is repeated throughout the movie; yet, I have seen no critic address it, or even mention it in passing. This is the motive of role reversals, examples of which include:

    1. Rokuchan, whose obsession with trains appears to be a sign of mental illness, prays Buddha to make his mother smarter. (Reversal of sanity and insanity.)

    2. When visited by the burglar, Tanba the doctor does not resist him, but on the contrary informs him where the money is kept. Later, the burglar confesses his crime to the police, but Tanba denies that it ever took place. (Reversal of the roles of criminal and victim.)

    3. Tanba suggests to the rowdy sword-swinging young man that they exchange their roles. This “deflates” the young man, who stops his disorderly behaviour. (A concrete example of a suggested role reversal.)

    4. With Tanba, there is also the episode with the poison and the anti-poison. For a moment the doctor assumes the role of a killer, if only to teach the patient a lesson. (Reversal of life giver and life taker.)

    5. Hatsutaro and Masuo swap their wives — or, the wives swap their husbands. (Reversal of matrimonial roles.)

    6. Katsuko stabs the delivery boy who cares about her most and tries to help her, rather than attacking Kyota who is the source of her problems. (Reversal of helper and assailant.)

    7. You could also talk about Kyota forcibly reversing Katsuko’s role from daughter to wife when he rapes her. He later about how all women are the same, whether teenagers or middle-aged. (Reversal of family roles.)

    8. The beggar is child-like with his imagination, while his son is very adult-like in his practicality and patience with his father. The son is also the one who brings all the food to the table. (Reversal of father and son roles.)

    9. With Hei the rag picker and his wife, the more traditional story of a man crawling back to a woman is reversed. (Reversal of traditional story roles in infidelity.)

    10. A similar reversal is allegedly taking place in Ryotaro’s family, with his wife apparently sleeping around. (Reversal of traditional roles in infidelity.)

    11. Ryotaro furthermore assumes the role of a house wife, looking after the children. He, it seems suggested, is also the one doing the cooking. (Reversal of husband and wife roles.)

    12. Shima, who has all the right to complain about his rude cigarette smoking wife, somewhat surprisingly defends her in front of his friends. (Reversal of the expected role of an unhappy husband.)

    13. In a nicely visual example early on in the film, Shima’s wife takes the place of the vegetable seller when she drives the seller out of his market stand and positions herself behind the counter. (Reversal of buyer and seller.)

    There may well be others that I have forgotten about, or haven’t even noticed.

    Now, I have time to time pondered what these role reversals actually mean. Why Dodesukaden seemingly littered with them? What are they trying to communicate?

    And, I must say, I haven’t come to any satisfactory conclusion. Consequently, any help would be appreciated, in case you have suggestions!

    (Oh, and feel free to tell me if you disagree with me about the 13 observations listed above, or the presence of role reversals in the first place.)

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    cocoskyavitch

    I’m not sure if Dodesukaden is a tragic film or not. If it is tragic, the role reversals are indicative of a world upside-down. If not a tragic film, then they are perhaps explorations of the doppelganger/opposite. That thing you know that Kurosawa does in Stray Dog in the apprehension scene with the mud, or in the concluding scene in High and Low.

    I always thought it was a tragic film, and that Kurosawa’s “do not avert your eyes” became particularly painful-(remember the imagined palace gates dreamed by the delusional father beggar, when reality was so garishly horrible?) in this film.

    Your 13 observations seem to be quite on target, Vili, and useul in looking at the character vignettes. It does also shed a different light on the doppelganger/opposite. ) Perhaps Kurosawa is very interested in seeing just how closely opposites can resemble one another.

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    cocoskyavitch

    “Perhaps Kurosawa is very interested in seeing just how closely opposites can resemble one another. “

    I suppose I might have said that perhaps Kurosawa is interested in exploring that region of identity that lies in our social and moral choices.

    Maybe that’s better.

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    lawless

    Now that I’ve finally gotten around to watching Dodesukaden, I tend to think, as Coco suggests, that these reversals are a sign of a world that’s so different from the norm and so marginalized that everything is upside down and topsy turvy.

    Assuming (as I do) that this is on the whole a faithful adaptation of the short stories on which it’s based, the upside down/topsy turvy quality was already inherent in the source material. That might be what drew Kurosawa to it, but doesn’t necessarily mean that he would apply that paradigm to poverty and marginalization across the board. The film, and the stories it tells, don’t feel as universal in application or message to me as most of his other work – not even as much so as The Lower Depths, which it resembles thematically and in the socio-economic status of the characters and setting. The stories told here feel more specific and tied to those particular characters in those particular circumstances.

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    Vili Maunula

    I think that you have a very good point there, lawless, when you write that the stories in Dodesukaden are on some level more specific than is typical of Kurosawa. The film does feel indeed more immediate, or more introverted, and as a result somewhat less universal in what it wishes to communicate.

    Coco’s observation “that Kurosawa’s ‘do not avert your eyes’ became particularly painful … in this film” has stayed with me these past months. On some level, Dodesukaden certainly is a bit like watching a car accident in slow motion. Although, in this particular car, the passengers themselves don’t seem to realise that they are hitting that brick wall.

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