Cast & Crew
Episodes from the lives of a group of Tokyo slum-dwellers: Rokkuchan, a retarded boy who brings meaning and routine to his life by driving an imaginary streetcar; children who support their parents by scrounging or by tedious and ill-paying endeavours; schemers who plot or dream of escaping the shackles of poverty.
Best Foreign Language Film
"Dodes'Ka Den" comes from the sound a trolley makes ("Clickety-Clack") and is chanted over and over at the film's opening by Roku-chan (Yoshitaka Zushi), a retarded slum-dweller who spends each day conducting an imaginary trolley. Roku-chan's is only one story in a poor and troubled tar-paper village. Plagued by hunger, frustration and general want, these characters spend their days finding ways to cope with their dismal situations.
By 1970, five years had passed since Kurosawa had given audiences the well-received Red Beard (1965). He was temporarily involved in Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) in 1968 and 1969, but was fired by Twentieth Century-Fox, resulting in a very public squabble. As he struggled for financial and artistic stability, Dodes'Ka Den stands out as an extremely personal project for Kurosawa, one that met with varied success.
The film is based on The Town Without Seasons a collection of short stories by Shugoro Yamamoto, whose work had been the basis for Sanjuro (1962) and Red Beard. The misery and deprivation on display in Dodes'Ka Den is a switch from the hero themes of Kurosawa's earlier work, which centered on a dominant leader, often played by Toshiro Mifune, against an epic backdrop. This time around, his focus is on the weak and forgotten, in a claustrophobic setting, with no force of deliverance at hand.
Though the subject matter is decidedly downbeat, Kurosawa claimed to be at his happiest while making the film. '[A]s you can see from the snapshots of me while working on the set, I was always smiling and never angry. I enjoyed it heartily,' he said of the experience in The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie.
Dodes'Ka Den was shot in a Tokyo dump, using debris collected from the site for all of the outdoor sets. The exteriors were dyed with a spray gun to create vivid pinks, golds and greens-bright, saturated hues that contrast with the characters' bleak lives. Kurosawa shot the film in standard 35mm, rather than Cinemascope, which he had used in The Hidden Fortress (1958) and Red Beard, so that the colors would be distinct and the scenes immediate.
Though legendary for his lengthy production habits, Kurosawa eliminated rehearsals for his actors in Dodes'Ka Den, asking them to improvise. To further increase the realism of the project, he employed a "one scene, one cut" practice throughout the film, avoiding his trademark dissolves and wipes.
In preparation for the film, Kurosawa asked Japanese school children to send in drawings of streetcars, which would cover the inside of Roku-chan and his mother's shack. The response was huge and the final pictures, created by Kurosawa's art department, were inspired by more than 2000 submissions.
Kurosawa attempted suicide a year after the film's release, and despite his words to the contrary, viewers might wonder about the director's mood during the making of Dodes'Ka Den, as Roger Ebert did: "Kurosawa shot in color, he says, so that the closed lives of these people would not look too grim. But Dodes'ka-den is a tragedy in any case....Kurosawa seems to have been obsessed with pessimism, with dark thoughts about the aimlessness of human existence."
Producers: Akira Kurosawa, Yoichi Matsue
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto; Shugoro Yamamoto (novel, "Kisetsu no nai machi")
Cinematography: Yasumichi Fukuzawa, Takao Saito
Art Direction: Shinobu Muraki, Yoshiro Muraki
Music: Toru Takemitsu
Film Editing: Reiko Kaneko
Cast: Yoshitaka Zushi (Roku-chan), Kin Sugai (Okuni), Toshiyuki Tonomura (Taro Sawagami), Shinsuke Minami (Ryotaro Sawagami), Yuko Kusunoki (Misao Sawagami), Junzaburo Ban (Yukichi Shima), Kiyoko Tange (Mrs. Shima), Michio Hino (Mr. Ikawa), Keiji Furuyama (Mr. Matsui), Tappei Shimokawa (Mr. Nomoto), Kunie Tanaka (Hatsutaro Kawaguchi), Jitsuko Yoshimura (Yoshie Kawaguchi), Hisashi Igawa (Masuo Masuda), Hideko Okiyama (Tatsu Masuda), Tatsuo Matsumura (Kyota Watanaka), Imari Tsuji (Otane Watanaka), Tomoko Yamazaki (Katsuko Watanaka), Masahiko Kametani (Okabe), Hiroshi Akutagawa (Hei), Tomoko Naraoka (Ocho).
by Emily Soares
Dodes'ka-den - DODES'KA-DEN (1970) - Akira Kurosawa's First Film in Color on DVD
Anyone familiar with Kurosawa's films up until Dodes'ka-den will see immediately that it marks a new era in Kurosawa's sensibility and style. The narration from the trailer (included on the DVD) says, "This is a story about bizarre people in a bizarre town. But it is a story about people you know. The sorrow, nobility and cruelty of humanity, blended with humor into a beautiful melody." Gone is a central story, a hero or even a central protagonist with which Kurosawa builds tales of the resilience of the samurai code in a morally corrupt world, or the simple goodness struggling to survive in the midst of brutality and neglect. Also absent are most of the familiar faces that Kurosawa placed in front of the cameras for years. Stock company players like Takashi Shimura, Yushio Tsuchiya and others were left out, as was Kurosawa's most important on-screen muse, Toshiro Mifune; Kurosawa and Mifune's famous partnership had come under severe strain during the production of Red Beard (1965). (They never worked together again.) Instead, Dodes'ka-den weaves together several narrative strains, or episodes, based on short fictions by Shugoro Yamamoto, a popular writer whose work Kurosawa had previously adapted into Sanjuro (1962) and Red Beard. All of these tales involve a handful of characters living in a slum. The principle characters include two drunken day laborers and their wives; a cuckolded husband who lovingly tends to his wife's many children (most of them from different fathers); a beggar and his son, starving in the rusted shell of an automobile; a young girl abused by her cruel uncle; a man traumatized by painful memories; a wise village elder who seems to act as the moral center of the film; and finally, a mentally-challenged boy who operates an imaginary trolley that opens and closes the film. The sound he makes, approximating what real trolleys sound like when they go 'clickety-clack' across the tracks, is where the title of the film comes from - dodes'ka-den...dodes'ka-den...dodes'ka-den...
Kurosawa's career at the time of Dodes'ka-den was in awful shape. It had been five years since Red Beard, an extraordinary amount of time between film projects for Kurosawa. In the lost interim, he had developed The Runaway Train to be his first color film (in 70mm, no less), but American producers balked at his budget and his artistic demands. They thought color photography was a needless expense, since most of the prospective film would take place in the snow anyway. (Kurosawa's story was finally made - in 1986 as Runaway Train, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky and starring Jon Voight in an Oscar®-nominated performance.) Even more disastrous was Kurosawa's aborted participation in 20th Century-Fox's multi-national production of Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). Having spent two years developing the project, the relationship between sensei and the Hollywood studio became poisonous when it was suspected that Kurosawa was falling behind schedule and going way over budget. Believing Kurosawa was faltering under the strain, and quite possibly mentally ill (the most damaging slur against the director), Fox fired Kurosawa. Meanwhile, the Japanese film industry was also in dire straits, so Kurosawa didn't have much of a viable home base for filmmaking. It was under these circumstances that Kurosawa and three of Japan's other preeminent directors - Masaki Kobayashi, Kon Ichikawa and Keisuke Kinoshita - formed a production company called the Club of the Four Knights, with the hopes that the prestige of their four names banded together would attract financing and quality projects. Dodes'ka-den became their first and only production.
After the acrimonious experience with Fox over Tora! Tora! Tora!, and the subsequent damage to his reputation, Kurosawa felt cast off and unwanted, which informed his affection for the forgotten slum dwellers in Dodes'ka-den. While Kurosawa doesn't focus on any one character, as he so often did in earlier pictures, one could make the case that he was addressing his own feelings of inadequacies and failure through the male characters in the film, most of whom are damaged individuals - handicapped, suicidal, abused, drunk, pitiful dreamers, slaves to their lust or lost in their grief. Stephen Prine says in the liner notes that there were shades of Kurosawa in one particular character. "Kurosawa sympathizes and identifies with Rokuchan (the mentally challenged boy), who, like a film director, is a purveyor of dreams; it's no coincidence that schoolchildren call Rokuchan crazy, just as 20th Century-Fox had Kurosawa." This is echoed by Kurosawa's longtime script supervisor Teruyo Nogami who thought that "trolley-freak," another epithet the schoolchildren throw at Rokuchan, was a metaphor for "film-freak". (The one character with whom neither Kurosawa nor we really have no such empathy is with the uncle who abuses and rapes his own niece.) Clearly, Kurosawa was working through some issues, but the director did not make Dodes'ka-den an excuse to wallow in self-pity. Indeed, it is an often joyous film that celebrates life and dreams, even in the midst of despair. The desolate landscape, the village slum or the villagers aren't romanticized, but as stated before, they are shown as they are: lovably, and sometimes tragically, real.
Kurosawa was wholly confidant behind the scenes that despite his own problems, he could make the film in record time and on budget, an important goal since his reputation had been sullied as being a crazed, reckless artist, unable to handle a film. Because of his need to reestablish himself, Dodes'ka-den was shot faster (in two months) than anything he had done in years, despite the fact that it was his first color production. Kurosawa had resisted using color film because he didn't feel that film stock could capture what he saw and envisioned for what he was trying to achieve. Even on Dodes'ka-den, Kurosawa hedged his bets; according to Daisaku Kimura, his 1st assistant cameraman for the shoot, he painted everything - shadows, walls, buildings - because "he didn't trust the film stock." It may have taken Kurosawa even more time to shoot in color had Henri Langlois, French pioneer of the film archive movement and co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, not said to him, "You're the very person who should be making color film." Langlois showed him Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Part II (1945), a black and white film that has one garishly colored dance sequence. Langlois' argument and his reference to Eisenstein's dabbling was enough to convince Kurosawa to open up a new palette of tools.
Criterion's DVD cover is a painting that Kurosawa had made for Dodes'ka-den's poster art, a collage of stories that spill and swirl across the canvas. This child-like style is similar to the hundreds of paintings we see at the beginning and end of the film on Rokuchan's walls. Teruyo Nogami poignantly recalls in her interview included in the liner notes, "At first, all the drawings on the walls of Rokuchan's house were ones that (Kurosawa) had done at home. But when he hung them up and looked them over, he decided they were too grown-up. He'd tried his best to paint like a child, but when he saw it didn't work, he got schoolchildren to paint pictures of streetcars and used those instead. He never used the pictures that he'd stayed up all night to paint. That's the side of Kurosawa that I admired; that's the Kurosawa I loved."
For more information about Dodes'ka-den, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Dodes'ka-den, go to TCM Shopping.
by Scott McGee
Dodes'ka-den - DODES'KA-DEN (1970) - Akira Kurosawa's First Film in Color on DVD
The title is not only the sound Rokkuchan makes as he drives his imaginary trolley through the slums, it is also a common phrase in Japanese. The exact meaning is fraught with cultural background, but a rough translation is, "So, how about it?" or "Is this to your liking?"
Often-quoted running time of 244 minutes for original Japanese version is actually based on a misprint. Original running time was 140 minutes.
Released in United States July 1971
Released in United States October 5, 1971
Released in United States on Video May 1986
Shown at Moscow International Film Festival July 1971.
Shown at New York Film Festival October 5, 1971.
Shown in New York City (Cinema Village) as part of Janus Films 40th Anniversary Film Festival December 13, 1996 - January 2, 1997.
Director Akira Kurosawa's first color film.
Released in United States on Video May 1986
Released in United States July 1971 (Shown at Moscow International Film Festival July 1971.)
Released in United States October 5, 1971 (Shown at New York Film Festival October 5, 1971.)