Dersu Uzala (Akira Kurosawa, 1975)
The Russian army sends an explorer on an expedition to the snowy Siberian wilderness where he makes friends with a seasoned local hunter.
A few months after master director Akira Kurosawa attempted suicide, he went to Russia to make his film for Mosfilm studios because in Japan he wouldn’t find a studio ready to finance him after the financial failure of Dodeskaden (1970). Dersu Uzala earned him the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1976 and even with this recognition he had to ask George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to finance his next film Kagemusha. It is interesting to observe that everyone of Kurosawa’s film is considered at different levels as near-masterpieces and/or masterpieces. The Japanese director did not make a lot of films outside of his native land and it is interesting to watch Dersu Uzala for its almost entire location shooting in beautiful exteriors. The use of color and the photography of the Russian film are almost perfect in every way possible. The construction of every frame is once again at the level of excellence of Kurosawa. It is the sobriety and the natural storytelling of Kurosawa that makes it one of the most enduring films.
With the aging title character, an Asian native (Maksim Munzuk), a hunter who losses his sight and cannot aim no more we can make a parallel with Kurosawa’s own illness that slowly will make him blind. It is first a tale of friendship between a man of the city, civilisation, and modernity and a man of the ancient times living in natural elements and having simple needs like eating and respecting his habitat. He doesn’t need much and he lives as a nomad. Kurosawa adapted the memoirs of Captain Vladimir Arseniev (Yuri Solimin) and brought in it the observation of the decadence of men and their absurd urban rules and behaviors. Dersu represents a race of men that has disappeared and that we could have had listened to and learn a lot more than the civilisation did. It is, for Kurosawa, a very personal work that is easily forgotten in a filmography filled with great movies.
This being the ultimate film of Kurosawa on my quest I feel a little sad to say goodbye to this filmmaker that I greatly admire. Easily ranked in my Top 3, I still have some minor films of the director to watch to complete the list of his films but for now I’ll continue onto other filmmakers to try complete my viewing the 1000 Greatest Films of All Time of They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?