The Lower Depths


2h 17m 1962
The Lower Depths

Brief Synopsis

An elderly pilgrim tries to help the inhabitants of a Japanese flop house.

Film Details

Also Known As
Donzoko
Genre
Drama
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 9 Feb 1962
Production Company
Toho Co.
Distribution Company
Brandon Films
Country
Japan
Location
Japan
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Na dne by Maxim Gorky (Moscow, Dec 1902).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 17m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In 19th-century Edo near the end of the Tokugawa period, a small hostel houses an assortment of individuals, including a cynical gambler, a thief, a tinker, an ex-samurai, an alcoholic actor, and a prostitute. The landlady, Osugi, treats all of her lodgers, including a newly arrived priest, with contempt, while reserving her real passion for the thief Sutekichi rather than her husband. Sutekichi, however, loves Osugi's sister, and when the possessive landlady discovers his feelings she becomes jealous and incites him to kill her husband. Sutekichi is arrested, and with his departure Osugi goes mad with grief. The priest departs, and as the other lodgers drink saké it is discovered that the actor has hanged himself. The gambler comments, "The idiot. Just as the fun was beginning."

Film Details

Also Known As
Donzoko
Genre
Drama
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 9 Feb 1962
Production Company
Toho Co.
Distribution Company
Brandon Films
Country
Japan
Location
Japan
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Na dne by Maxim Gorky (Moscow, Dec 1902).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 17m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The Lower Depths (1962)


Akira Kurosawa's classic The Lower Depths (1957, Donzoko in Japanese), was based on Maxim Gorky's 1902 Russian play Na dne (literally At Bottom), a story of poverty in the "lower depths" of society. The play had been made into a film by Jean Renoir in 1936, Les bas-fonds starring Jean Gabin and Suzy Prim, a 1946 Indian film by Chetan Anand and a Chinese version the following year by Huang Zuolin. Kurosawa makes the story his own, casting the great Toshiro Mifune, his leading man in so many of his films, Isuzu Yamada (who had just appeared as his leading lady in Throne of Blood (1957) as Lady Asaji Washizu), and Minoru Chiaki (also in Throne of Blood and Ikiru (1952) and as the Priest in Rashomon, 1950).

Shot at the Toho Studios in Tokyo in-between Throne of Blood and The Hidden Fortress (1958), The Lower Depths has Kurosawa moving the action from Russia to mid-19th century Japan but remaining very faithful to Gorky's original work. "Gorky's period was Imperial Russia but I changed it to Japan, the Edo period. In Edo [Tokyo] during this period, the Shogunate was falling to pieces and thousands were living almost unendurable lives. Their resentment we can still feel in the senryu and rakushu [poetry of sarcasm and other forms of entertainment] of the time. Anyway, I wanted to show this atmosphere, to reveal it – though whether I really did or not, I don't know."

Kurosawa decided to take a comedic approach in making the film, "I'd always wanted to make Gorky's play into a movie. Into a really easy and entertaining movie. After all, The Lower Depths isn't at all gloomy. It is very funny and I remember laughing over it. That is because we are shown people who really want to live and we are shown them – I think- humorously. People are just supposed to relax and enjoy this picture as they would any programmer."

The cast rehearsed in full makeup for forty-five days, even having the cameras running without film. "We worked steadily and well, and the shooting did not take long. We had many rehearsals and worked out all the choreography (actors, camera, etc.,) well in advance. Maybe that was why it was so easy to make." Kurosawa later remembered. "I used bakabayashi [musicians traditionally used in traveling shows] because we always think of this music as being joyous and festive, and I wanted it to suggest precisely the opposite, something dark and tragic. Also, once, to get everyone in the proper mood, I invited onto the set one of the few remaining old men who could still do Endo rakugo [satirical stories] and we never had more fun than on that day." I wanted Mifune to play his part in the style of Mezumi-kozo [a Robin Hood-type character] but that didn't work. Mifune is simply too well-built, he has too much presence. He can't help but bring his own dignity to his roles."

The Lower Depths was released as a road-show on September 17, 1957 before going into wider distribution in that country on October 1st. It was not released in the United States until February 9, 1962 in a subtitled version. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was moved to write, "The Bleecker Street Cinema deserves a medal for making its screen available to Akira Kurosawa's Japanese version of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, a five-year-old film of the famed director's that has not heretofore been booked in New York. For there is in this oriental visioning of the Russian drama of poverty and despair a great deal of quality and technique that the cinema lover and student might profitably see. Here Kurosawa, the brilliant master of passion and atmosphere (as witness his Rashomon, Ikiru and more recent Thunder in the Blood [Throne of Blood]), has restrained the gestures of his actors to a conspicuous degree, while concentrating upon their facial expressions and their slow, painful posturing of dismal moods." Crowther bemoaned the fact, which is still true today, that foreign-language films do not get a wider audience in the United States, "[W]e suspect that the attraction will be mainly, if not solely, for those who have an interest in the work of the director. A medal is probably all the Bleecker Street Cinema can expect to get out of making the film available."

Author Donald Richie observed that the ending of the film, in which the audience is told that it was all an illusion was a jolt to the audience. "The final song and dance have been intensely moving as only the sight of an unknowing innocence can be moving in a world shown as hopeless. Then, like cold water dashed in the face, we are told to come out of it, to come off it, the show's over. The ending is very shocking. It certainly shocked the Japanese, the majority of whom disliked the film; the critics were particularly strong on what they innocently called Kurosawa's 'negative' attitude. His attitude is, of course, nothing of the sort. Unlike his audience, Kurosawa prefers to take life straight, to see illusion as illusion. No more positive attitude can be imagined, nor any attitude more difficult. It is, indeed, so difficult that it becomes funny. He was right; The Lower Depths is a very funny play, and the film is a very funny film. If life is not something to cry over then it must become something to laugh about."

The Lower Depths was released on DVD in 2004 in the United States by The Criterion Collection as a two-DVD set along with Jean Renoir's film version of Gorky's play, Les bas-fonds.

Producer: Akira Kurosawa
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni; Maxim Gorky (play "The Lower Depths")
Cinematography: Kazuo Yamasaki
Music: Masaru Sato
Film Editing: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Sutekichi the Thief), Isuzu Yamada (Osugi the Landlady), Kyoko Kagawa (Okayo, Osugi's Sister), Ganjiro Nakamura (Rokubei, Osugi's Husband), Minoru Chiaki (Former Samurai), Kamatari Fujiwara (The Actor), Akemi Negishi (Osen the Prostitute), Nijiko Kiyokawa (Otaki the Candy-Seller), Koji Mitsui (Yoshisaburo the Gambler), Eijiro Tono (Tomekichi the Tinker), Haruo Tanaka (Tatsu), Eiko Miyoshi (Asa, Tomekichi's Wife), Bokuzen Hidari (Kahei the Pilgrim), Atsushi Watanabe (Kuna).
BW-125m.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Crowther, Bosley "Screen: Kurosawa's 'Lower Depths': Japanese Version of Gorky Play Opens 5-Year-Old Movie at the Bleecker Street" The New York Times 11 Feb 62
Richie, Donald The Films of Akira Kurosawa
http://www.imdb.com
The Lower Depths (1962)

The Lower Depths (1962)

Akira Kurosawa's classic The Lower Depths (1957, Donzoko in Japanese), was based on Maxim Gorky's 1902 Russian play Na dne (literally At Bottom), a story of poverty in the "lower depths" of society. The play had been made into a film by Jean Renoir in 1936, Les bas-fonds starring Jean Gabin and Suzy Prim, a 1946 Indian film by Chetan Anand and a Chinese version the following year by Huang Zuolin. Kurosawa makes the story his own, casting the great Toshiro Mifune, his leading man in so many of his films, Isuzu Yamada (who had just appeared as his leading lady in Throne of Blood (1957) as Lady Asaji Washizu), and Minoru Chiaki (also in Throne of Blood and Ikiru (1952) and as the Priest in Rashomon, 1950). Shot at the Toho Studios in Tokyo in-between Throne of Blood and The Hidden Fortress (1958), The Lower Depths has Kurosawa moving the action from Russia to mid-19th century Japan but remaining very faithful to Gorky's original work. "Gorky's period was Imperial Russia but I changed it to Japan, the Edo period. In Edo [Tokyo] during this period, the Shogunate was falling to pieces and thousands were living almost unendurable lives. Their resentment we can still feel in the senryu and rakushu [poetry of sarcasm and other forms of entertainment] of the time. Anyway, I wanted to show this atmosphere, to reveal it – though whether I really did or not, I don't know." Kurosawa decided to take a comedic approach in making the film, "I'd always wanted to make Gorky's play into a movie. Into a really easy and entertaining movie. After all, The Lower Depths isn't at all gloomy. It is very funny and I remember laughing over it. That is because we are shown people who really want to live and we are shown them – I think- humorously. People are just supposed to relax and enjoy this picture as they would any programmer." The cast rehearsed in full makeup for forty-five days, even having the cameras running without film. "We worked steadily and well, and the shooting did not take long. We had many rehearsals and worked out all the choreography (actors, camera, etc.,) well in advance. Maybe that was why it was so easy to make." Kurosawa later remembered. "I used bakabayashi [musicians traditionally used in traveling shows] because we always think of this music as being joyous and festive, and I wanted it to suggest precisely the opposite, something dark and tragic. Also, once, to get everyone in the proper mood, I invited onto the set one of the few remaining old men who could still do Endo rakugo [satirical stories] and we never had more fun than on that day." I wanted Mifune to play his part in the style of Mezumi-kozo [a Robin Hood-type character] but that didn't work. Mifune is simply too well-built, he has too much presence. He can't help but bring his own dignity to his roles." The Lower Depths was released as a road-show on September 17, 1957 before going into wider distribution in that country on October 1st. It was not released in the United States until February 9, 1962 in a subtitled version. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was moved to write, "The Bleecker Street Cinema deserves a medal for making its screen available to Akira Kurosawa's Japanese version of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, a five-year-old film of the famed director's that has not heretofore been booked in New York. For there is in this oriental visioning of the Russian drama of poverty and despair a great deal of quality and technique that the cinema lover and student might profitably see. Here Kurosawa, the brilliant master of passion and atmosphere (as witness his Rashomon, Ikiru and more recent Thunder in the Blood [Throne of Blood]), has restrained the gestures of his actors to a conspicuous degree, while concentrating upon their facial expressions and their slow, painful posturing of dismal moods." Crowther bemoaned the fact, which is still true today, that foreign-language films do not get a wider audience in the United States, "[W]e suspect that the attraction will be mainly, if not solely, for those who have an interest in the work of the director. A medal is probably all the Bleecker Street Cinema can expect to get out of making the film available." Author Donald Richie observed that the ending of the film, in which the audience is told that it was all an illusion was a jolt to the audience. "The final song and dance have been intensely moving as only the sight of an unknowing innocence can be moving in a world shown as hopeless. Then, like cold water dashed in the face, we are told to come out of it, to come off it, the show's over. The ending is very shocking. It certainly shocked the Japanese, the majority of whom disliked the film; the critics were particularly strong on what they innocently called Kurosawa's 'negative' attitude. His attitude is, of course, nothing of the sort. Unlike his audience, Kurosawa prefers to take life straight, to see illusion as illusion. No more positive attitude can be imagined, nor any attitude more difficult. It is, indeed, so difficult that it becomes funny. He was right; The Lower Depths is a very funny play, and the film is a very funny film. If life is not something to cry over then it must become something to laugh about." The Lower Depths was released on DVD in 2004 in the United States by The Criterion Collection as a two-DVD set along with Jean Renoir's film version of Gorky's play, Les bas-fonds. Producer: Akira Kurosawa Director: Akira Kurosawa Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni; Maxim Gorky (play "The Lower Depths") Cinematography: Kazuo Yamasaki Music: Masaru Sato Film Editing: Akira Kurosawa Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Sutekichi the Thief), Isuzu Yamada (Osugi the Landlady), Kyoko Kagawa (Okayo, Osugi's Sister), Ganjiro Nakamura (Rokubei, Osugi's Husband), Minoru Chiaki (Former Samurai), Kamatari Fujiwara (The Actor), Akemi Negishi (Osen the Prostitute), Nijiko Kiyokawa (Otaki the Candy-Seller), Koji Mitsui (Yoshisaburo the Gambler), Eijiro Tono (Tomekichi the Tinker), Haruo Tanaka (Tatsu), Eiko Miyoshi (Asa, Tomekichi's Wife), Bokuzen Hidari (Kahei the Pilgrim), Atsushi Watanabe (Kuna). BW-125m. by Lorraine LoBianco SOURCES: Crowther, Bosley "Screen: Kurosawa's 'Lower Depths': Japanese Version of Gorky Play Opens 5-Year-Old Movie at the Bleecker Street" The New York Times 11 Feb 62 Richie, Donald The Films of Akira Kurosawa http://www.imdb.com

The Lower Depths on DVD


In a move destined to confound video collectors who like to arrange their foreign film collections by country of origin, Criterion presents a double bill of two great directors from France and Japan tackling the Russian play by Maxim Gorky (which was also filmed at least three times within his own homeland as well). A typical dramatic piece of its period and an influence on future playwrights like Eugene O'Neill, the tragicomic story depicts a group of lower class denizens squabbling, playing games, and fighting for each other's affections while the world outside passes them by.

In an amusing compare/contrast exercise, this two-disc set juxtaposes two different periods and locales for wildly different takes on the same social statement. The earlier of the two, Jean Renoir's 1936 adaptation (Les bas-fonds), is lodged between his two most widely known masterworks, Boudu Saved from Drowning and Grand Illusion. Fortunately this film stands up admirably in comparison and benefits from an early starring role for the always reliable Jean Gabin (on the cusp of stardom with the next year's Pepe le Moko) as charismatic thief Wasska Pepel, who pawns stolen wares onto his bloodsucking landlord, Kostylev (Vladimir Sokoloff) while sleeping with his coldhearted wife (Suzy Prim) and lusting after her sister, Natasha (Junie Astor). One of Pepel's potential victims, a wealthy and self-destructive baron (Louis Juvet), appears unexpectedly at Pepel's flophouse as the threat of a police inspection causes the residents to scramble for plans to escape from their sorry fates and possible incarceration.

Shifting the location to feudal Japan, Akira Kurosawa's 1957 version stars Toshiro Mifune in the lead role with Isuzu Yamada and Kyôko Kagawa as the landlord's wife and sister-in-law. While Renoir opened up the events of the play to take the action outside the flophouse, Kurosawa moves in the opposite direction by focusing entirely on the sole, depressing locale, paring away many narrative elements to focus on the character quirks and suffocating atmosphere of social despair. His trademark humor and visual flair are in bountiful evidence, and any Kurosawa/Mifune collaboration is bound to be rewarding; though initially regarded as something of a lesser entry in both men's filmographies, this valid interpretation has gained stature over the years and benefits especially well compared to Renoir's more fast-moving, stylish entry.

As with many of his other films, Renoir shot a personal introduction characterized by his trademark wit and humanistic insight. (Criterion's other releases, including the eyeball-searing Stage and Spectacle box set, contain these priceless intros as well.) He also offers some interesting tidbits on the film, such as Gorky's approval of the play¿s transition to the French language. The Kurosawa version gets the majority of the extras, beginning with an audio commentary by Japanese cinephile Donal Richie (who keeps things surprisingly lively for such a visually static film), a new half-hour documentary entitled "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create" featuring vintage location and interview footage with Kurosawa, Kagawa, and production designer Yoshiro Muraki, and cast bios. The thick packaging features a hefty booklet with two sets of liner notes, one by Alexander Sesonske devoted to the Renoir film and the second by Keiko McDonald and Thomas Rimer for Kurosawa's.

For more information about The Lower Depths, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Lower Depths, go to TCM Shopping.

by Nathaniel Thompson

The Lower Depths on DVD

In a move destined to confound video collectors who like to arrange their foreign film collections by country of origin, Criterion presents a double bill of two great directors from France and Japan tackling the Russian play by Maxim Gorky (which was also filmed at least three times within his own homeland as well). A typical dramatic piece of its period and an influence on future playwrights like Eugene O'Neill, the tragicomic story depicts a group of lower class denizens squabbling, playing games, and fighting for each other's affections while the world outside passes them by. In an amusing compare/contrast exercise, this two-disc set juxtaposes two different periods and locales for wildly different takes on the same social statement. The earlier of the two, Jean Renoir's 1936 adaptation (Les bas-fonds), is lodged between his two most widely known masterworks, Boudu Saved from Drowning and Grand Illusion. Fortunately this film stands up admirably in comparison and benefits from an early starring role for the always reliable Jean Gabin (on the cusp of stardom with the next year's Pepe le Moko) as charismatic thief Wasska Pepel, who pawns stolen wares onto his bloodsucking landlord, Kostylev (Vladimir Sokoloff) while sleeping with his coldhearted wife (Suzy Prim) and lusting after her sister, Natasha (Junie Astor). One of Pepel's potential victims, a wealthy and self-destructive baron (Louis Juvet), appears unexpectedly at Pepel's flophouse as the threat of a police inspection causes the residents to scramble for plans to escape from their sorry fates and possible incarceration. Shifting the location to feudal Japan, Akira Kurosawa's 1957 version stars Toshiro Mifune in the lead role with Isuzu Yamada and Kyôko Kagawa as the landlord's wife and sister-in-law. While Renoir opened up the events of the play to take the action outside the flophouse, Kurosawa moves in the opposite direction by focusing entirely on the sole, depressing locale, paring away many narrative elements to focus on the character quirks and suffocating atmosphere of social despair. His trademark humor and visual flair are in bountiful evidence, and any Kurosawa/Mifune collaboration is bound to be rewarding; though initially regarded as something of a lesser entry in both men's filmographies, this valid interpretation has gained stature over the years and benefits especially well compared to Renoir's more fast-moving, stylish entry. As with many of his other films, Renoir shot a personal introduction characterized by his trademark wit and humanistic insight. (Criterion's other releases, including the eyeball-searing Stage and Spectacle box set, contain these priceless intros as well.) He also offers some interesting tidbits on the film, such as Gorky's approval of the play¿s transition to the French language. The Kurosawa version gets the majority of the extras, beginning with an audio commentary by Japanese cinephile Donal Richie (who keeps things surprisingly lively for such a visually static film), a new half-hour documentary entitled "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create" featuring vintage location and interview footage with Kurosawa, Kagawa, and production designer Yoshiro Muraki, and cast bios. The thick packaging features a hefty booklet with two sets of liner notes, one by Alexander Sesonske devoted to the Renoir film and the second by Keiko McDonald and Thomas Rimer for Kurosawa's. For more information about The Lower Depths, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Lower Depths, go to TCM Shopping. by Nathaniel Thompson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Released in Japan in September 1957 as Donzoko; running time: 137 min. According to one source the photographer is Kazuo Yamasaki. Hashimoto's participation is unconfirmed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in Japan September 17, 1957

Released in United States March 6, 1991

Re-released in United States on Video March 6, 1991

b&w

dialogue Japanese

subtitled

Re-released in Paris February 6, 1991.

Released in United States March 6, 1991

Re-released in United States on Video March 6, 1991

Released in Japan September 17, 1957