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Different Versions of Dersu Uzala

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    A while back I purchased the Region 3 release of Dersu Uzala which contains two versions of the film: the “original” version and the US version. I’ve been scouring the Internet to find information about the differences between the two and have been surprised that nothing can be found except someone posting the same question as mine on the IMDB forums without an answer.

    Obviously, the so-called US version is longer (and on this R3 DVD release has a better transfer). But which version is director preferred?

    Does anyone know why two versions of the film were released? What were the circumstances behind this decision?

    Thank you for any help!



    That’s a good question, cm575! There is a resident Dersu Uzala version expert here, so let’s see if we can get Master Thief to shed light on the matter.

    However, to the best of my current knowledge, there are actually no differences between the two versions, apart from print quality. I haven’t actually checked (as I don’t have the discs), but I would venture to guess that the times are simply calculated differently due to frame rate differences or because one version perhaps includes an intermission and the other one doesn’t?

    Or they are simply lying! The Region 2 Artificial Eye release, for instance, claims “144 minutes approximately” as its running time, but in fact at least on my DVD player runs for a total of 136 minutes (1:07:38 + 1:08:23). It has no real intermission, just a disc swap.

    If you have the discs, could you do a quick check and see what the actual lengths of the prints really are — not the numbers printed on the sleeve but what your player actually tells you? Also, check if one of them has an intermission (it probably should be around the 1 hour 7 minute mark).

    In any case, 141 minutes should be the official length of the film, which I think includes an intermission. There are some rumours that the original Russian release ran something like 185 minutes, but that was probably a misunderstanding somewhere — Galbraith mentions this in a footnote (page 519). He also notes that there is a mention of a 165 minute version shown in the US, but that was almost certainly a printing error that got repeated. It would perhaps explain the talk of a longer “American version”, though.


    Master Thief

    I have had a quick check of all the versions I own (http://kurosawa.jokerman.net/dersu_uzala.html) . I also bought the Region 3 (Korean) version but mine only had the 2 discs. From what I can gather the extra “US” version is similar to the Kino release. See the DVD Beaver review here: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/dvdcompare/dersuuzala.htm.

    My NTSC Kino version runs for 140:56 on a single disc. All my other versions are different packaging of the Ruscico print and run to around 136 mins. I don’t think there is an intermission in the Kino. As both versions in the Region 3 are NTSC I don’t think the extra length can be put down to frame rates.

    My preference (narrowly) is for the Kino release. I haven’t got time at the moment to watch both again to see if there is any extra footage in the Kino. Watching it also upsets me to see such a glorious film in such poor quality compared to when I saw it on a big screen in the late seventies.



    Thanks, Master Thief!

    I guess one way to proceed with this would be to check how much ahead the shorter version is at the half-way point? If the difference there is proportional to the difference in total length (i.e., if the shorter film has at the half-way mark played for about two and a half minutes less), it could be an indication that the prints are simply running in different speeds. On the other hand, if this is not the case, it would automatically indicate that there is more content either at the beginning or at the end.

    Another possible explanation that comes to mind: could the longer print have longer opening and end titles, causing the print to be longer? Sometimes when films are brought into the US market, they add full Hollywood style credits at the end, causing the print run longer. (Maybe it’s a contractual thing.)



    Thanks for both of your help.

    I checked both versions of the movie on the Korean release and the original version runs for a total of 2:15:52 (spread over two discs) whereas the US version runs for 2:20:56. In my quick run through of both films, I did notice that the closing credits were in English for the US version and, of course, Russian for the original version.



    I saw a version of this film years ago on DVD, then recently saw a version posted on youtube. I’m sorry I can’t provide details, running times, etc. However I recall some key details being different than the version on youtube. On the DVD version Dersu tells the captain that while he was away hunting his family had smallpox and the villagers nailed the doors and windows shut and burned them alive. On the youtube version they simply died from the disease. Also when they encounter the hermit who was sexually betrayed by his own brother, Dersu simply counseled them to leave him alone and move on, honoring the man’s choice. On the youtube version the man decides to return to society after encountering the captain’s party. No explanation is given. Watching the DVD I was shocked by the villagers behavior and saddened when they left the hermit sitting in a daze in the snow. It seems to me like the youtube cut was designed for more popular appeal but detracts from the power of the film, which hinges on Dersu’s moral character contrasted with the evil deeds of others. Also, there were minor but significant differences in the translation, or maybe the dialog. On the DVD version Dersu introduces himself, [English subtitles], “don’t shoot, I am people”, while on the youtube version, “Shoot not, me a man.” A subtle difference but in the first instance Dersu identifies more generally as sharing a common bond, as opposed to being non-animal. Some might consider these minor detail but overall the youtube version was softer, more bland. I hope my memory is not too foggy, but the DVD version made a deep impression.

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