DVD Review: Akira Kurosawa Returns to Criterion Collection With ‘Dodes’da Ken’

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HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0
DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – I’m not sure, but I think there are more Akira Kurosawa titles available in the Criterion Collection than any other filmmaker. His classic films like “Ran,” “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” and “Yojimbo” have been critically acclaimed releases for the influential series of DVDs. His 24th title in the Criterion Collection is last week’s “Dodes’da Ken,” one of the greatest directors of all time’s first film in color.

1970’s “Dodes’da Ken” came five years after the great “Red Beard” and five years before “Dersu Uzala” and a decade before “Kagemusha”. The film was made at a tumultuous time in Kurosawa’s personal life and was critically panned in his home country despite being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Dodes'da Ken was released on DVD on March 17th, 2009.
Dodes’da Ken was released on DVD on March 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

According to some sources, the critical and commercial failure of his ambitious foray into color sent Kurosawa into a deep depression, resulting in a suicide attempt. Personally, I don’t think “Dodes’da Ken” stands with this masterful filmmaker’s best works, but as a clearly very important part of his real-world history, it’s a must-see. This personal film sent Kurosawa into a state that he would have to work his way out of to make two of his best films - “Kagemusha” and “Ran”.

Dodes'da Ken was released on DVD on March 17th, 2009.
Dodes’da Ken was released on DVD on March 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

“Akira Kurosawa’s film follows the daily lives of a group of people barely scraping by in a slum on the outskirts of Tokyo. Yet as desperate as their circumstances are, each of them - the homeless father and son envisioning their dream house, the young woman abused by her uncle, the boy who imagines himself as a trolley conductor - finds reasons to carry on.”

With “Dodes’ka Den,” Kurosawa took full advantage of his first use of color, bringing life to a film that was actually shot at a dump in Tokyo. The movie fluctuates wildly in tone, but always displays Kurosawa’s amazing visual sensibility. The man could frame a shot like no one before or since. Even a lesser film of his like “Dodes’da Ken” looks stunning.

And it looks even better in the Criterion Collection with a new, restored high-definition digital transfer that maintains the films 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film is accompanied by a monaural track in Japanese with English subtitles.

Special features include a great 36-minute documentary called “Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create”. The doc wads created as a part of the “Toho Masterworks” series about the making of the film, including interviews with the director, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, actor Yoshitaka Zushi, and other members of the cast and crew.

Sadly, the doc is the only real draw to the special features, which are rounded out with just the theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring a new esssay by film historian Stephen Prince and a new interview with Nogami. It’s not the typically stunning collection of extras that Criterion usually includes.

I would never suggest starting a Kurosawa collection with “Dodes’da Ken” and with over a dozen other films by one of the most influential directors of all time already inducted into the Criterion Collection, I would start with one of those. But if you’ve seen a lot of Akira Kurosawa’s work and call yourself a fan, “Dodes’da Ken” is a great release to help complete your collection.

‘Dodes’da Ken’ is released by The Criterion Collection and stars Yoshitaka Zushi, Kin Sugai, Toshiyuki Tonomura, Shinsuke Minami, and Yuko Kusunoki. It was written by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, & Shinobu Hashimoto and directed by Kurosawa. It was released on March 17th, 2009. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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