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Saving Dersu Uzala

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    Master Thief

    Dersu Uzala is a unique Kurosawa film. The only one filmed outside Japan, with a non-Japanese cast and not in Japanese. It was also his first widescreen colour film.

    The recent Artificial Eye DVD release has prompted widespread dismay about the state of the film.

    At DVD Times, poster “aspalex” wrote:

    “I’ve been to Mosfilm in January, and the picture is very gloom. Mosfilm has the rights to their films, but they don’t own their original elements. The elements are stored in Russian state film archive Gosfilmofond, and according to chef Mosfilm restorer are very hard to get. Consequentially, Ruscico transfers are usually made from surviving studio prints, but almost never from low-contrast element which is very expensive to produce. Ruscico’s War and Peace is _not_ 70mm sourced, but created from reduction 35mm archival element. The original negative of War and Peace which was made on Soviet stock has uneven shrinkage, and some slight but uneven discoloration. The only way to make a pristine transfer for this film is to scan it in 6K, create a digital intermediate and restore it. Basically none of the Soviet 70mm productions are printable today in their original format.

    With Dersu Uzala the situation is even worse. Although the production utilised an improved stock (as opposed to War and Peace) and overall condition of the original negative is still good, there are no good reduction elements available, and there is no laboratory and printing equipment in Russia available that can process 70mm material. To add an insult to injury, there is no film scanner or telecine machine today equipped to deal with 70mm, and Gosfilmofond is not prepared to loan a 70mm intenegative of Dersu Uzala.”

    I therefore think as a worldwide group of Kurosawa fans we should try and do something about this. Kurosawa has many influential “disciples” who I think we should approach to support a project to restore this frail masterpiece. Martin Scorsese was one of only a few non-Japanese actors in a Kurosawa film and would appear to be an obvious champion of such a project. In “Waiting on the Weather”, Teruyo Nogami writes:

    “One day, Scorsese came flying in like a whirlwind. His arms were full of documents, and he rattled on like a machine gun (or so it sounded to those of us who couldn’t understand the language). Not even the veteran interpreter Audie Bock could keep up with him. It turned out he had come by to ask Kurosawa to sign on to a movement to prevent the fading of color film by preserving it in primary colors.

    Kurosawa did sign the papers, I believe, but what was most interesting was the strong impression Scorsese evidently made on him that day: Later he asked Scorsese to play the part of van Gogh in his film Dreams (1990). The images of the two men apparently overlapped in his mind.

    From then on, Kurosawa and Scorsese were like family.”

    There are obvious other “big names” who should also be approached to support such a project – Francis F. Coppola, George Lucas, Richard Gere, Yuri Solomin.

    My suggestion is that we try and put together a “project brief” through this forum bringing together all the information we can find about the state of the film and what might need to be done to save and restore the film. We should then approach Scorsese (and maybe some of the other “names”) to plead with them to champion (and fund) the project.

    These are only some quick thoughts and I hope this group can rally to develop this proposal and make it happen.

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    Vili Maunula

    I think Master Thief’s idea is excellent, and something that should really be thought about.

    Inspired by this bold idea, I have created a new sub-section to the forums, titled “Community Projects”, and have made this topic the first post of that section.

    Master Thief, do you have any idea how we could proceed to gather up information about the current state of the negative?

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    Master Thief

    At the moment the only information I have on the possible state of the negative is through the post of “aspalex” at DVD Times. He/she is somebody we should try and contact to be involved in this project. I can’t see that you can send private emails to DVD Times forum members. Has anybody had any contact with this person? I hope Jeremy would also offer his technical expertise.

    I suggest we use this thread to broadly discuss the project, but any detailed discussion of what we do, who we approach and how we approach them should be done though a private email group – not a public forum. The wrong type of approach at the wrong time could stymie the project.

    If there is enough interest amongst this group for such a project, maybe Vili can email those of us who are interested as a group and then we can start organising what to do. I assume only Vili knows all our email addresses.

    Am I correct in stating that Scorsese is the only actor who had an English speaking part in a Kurosawa film (Dreams). I think Richard Gere spoke Japanese for all but one line (“I wish I had known” – on arriving at the airport) in Rhapsody In August. The 2 prostitutes in Ikuru sing “C’mon a my house” in broken English. Are there any other English speaking parts that I have missed?

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    Jeremy

    I cant delete my post, so I decided to remove what I originally wrote. In short…

    I am interested but have nothing helpful to say right now.

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    BMWRider

    I will do whatever i can to help, please let me know where to start.

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    Master Thief

    I have also just ordered the Korean Spectrum version and a Spanish one by Divisa Home video in probably a forlorn hope that something better exists.

    I don’t think this is going to be a simple project. If Ruscico couldn’t get the 70mm intenegative from Gosfilmofond then it will take some persuading for others to get hold of it. Anyway that’s no reason to give up without trying. Let Watanabe be our inspiration to beat down the doors!

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    Master Thief

    I just realised that the Artificial Eye release is only a re-packaging of the Ruscico release from 2001. I had been thinking that it was more recent. So maybe nobody has approached Gosfilmofond about it for a few years.

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    Jeremy

    I have made contact to the A.K. Foundation, regarding a unrelated issue. The good news is between the emails pass, I slipped in a generic questions regarding contacting Hisao Kurosawa(son of AK) which is CEO of the foundation. The person mentioned that attempts to contact him are first filtered by his assistant but emails she reports as important although rare, he does read, and is capable of passing down the information to board directors Scorsese, Lucas, Spielberg, Saji, and Hamano. In the short time the emails have gone from formal inquires to informal and relaxed questions. A small step but I at least have some small relationship with one of the foundation assistants, that can in return possible provide contact to the assitant to Hisao, this may be helpful latter on.

    The emails I sent where to find information about the opening of the Kurosawa Museum planned this year. I will be going to Japan, some time in November. I am waiting for word about some other infomation regarding that.

    I would not be the best spokesperson about this project, but if I have my facts in order. If no one else will be going to Japan. I will make attempts to personally talk to Hisao. I am fairly crafty at getting what I want, and dont have much trouble arranging informal meetings with people otherwise very hard to get a hold of.

    Most of what I mention is hopeful thinking and in reality will require much effort but I got nothing to lose, and there lots of time to gather more information before my planned trip. I cant promise anything, other then I will be at the Foundation HQ. The chances are slim, but a shot of getting some interest generated is worth the effort.

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    Vili Maunula

    Great to see that there is so much enthusiasm for this! I’ll get more involved once my Internet connection arrives.

    Regarding the issue with a public forum, I can also create private forums here, with access only for registered users (and possibly, I think, even for a subset of registered users, although I will have to double check on that one). Do you think that would work, or would a mailing list still be a better option?

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    Jeremy

    In slightly related news…

    I dont have any specific details but Martin Scorsese will announce the creation of the World Cinema Foundation for preserving and restoring classic films, in the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.

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    Master Thief

    Probably the easiest thing at the moment is for Vili just to send a group email to those who have expressed an interest in the project and we can then starting communicating directly with each other.

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    Vili Maunula

    I’ll react to this within a week. I am still without an Internet connection at home, so arranging things online is a bit complicated at the moment.

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    Vili Maunula

    I have now sent mailing list invitations to the interested parties (i.e. those who have posted in this thread).

    If you would like to join us in our discussion of how to save Dersu Uzala, please indicate it in this thread, and I will invite you to our private mailing list.

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