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The Lower Depths (1957)

Donzoko (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama | 1 October 1957 (Japan)
In a Japanese slum, various residents play out their lives, dreaming of better things or settling for their lot. Among them is a man who pines for a young woman but is stymied by her deceptive family.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Osugi the Landlady
...
Okayo, Osugi's Sister
Ganjirô Nakamura ...
Rokubei, Osugi's Husband
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Tonosama - the former Samurai
...
The Actor
...
Osen the Prostitute
Nijiko Kiyokawa ...
Otaki the Candy-Seller
...
Yoshisaburo the Gambler
...
Tomekichi the Tinker
Haruo Tanaka ...
Tatsu
Eiko Miyoshi ...
Asa, Tomekichi's Wife
...
Kahei the Pilgrim
Atsushi Watanabe ...
Kuna
Kichijirô Ueda ...
Shimazo the Police Agent
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Storyline

In medieval Japan, aging Rokubei, his younger wife of four years Osugi and her uncle run a tenement complex at the bottom of a cliff, the complex which from the naked eye at the top of the cliff looks like nothing more than a rubbish heap. The tenants are a group of down-and-outers with some who operate on the far side of the law. Nonetheless, the tenants are close knit community in wallowing in their collective misery, those who care who know their lives will never get better as long as they stay there. The landlords have no compassion for the tenants, they mockingly only stating that the tenants will be given a favorable standing in a future life for any good deeds done around the tenement. The recent arrival of Kahei, a mysterious elderly man, affectionately referred to as Grandpa, who spins tales of the unknown, provides at least hope that there is a better life out there somewhere. Sutekichi, a thief who arguably is the leader among the tenants, and Osugi are carrying on an ... Written by Huggo

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Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

1 October 1957 (Japan)  »

Also Known As:

The Lower Depths  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The gambler's second line during the final song is "Jigoku no sata mo, kane shidai" (Money buys your fate in hell), an ironic Buddhist proverb about the power of money in the world. See more »

Connections

Version of Na dne (1952) See more »

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User Reviews

 
The positive functions of "useful lies"
12 January 2006 | by (Bloomington, IN) – See all my reviews

Having watched Kurosawa's retelling of Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" a couple weeks ago, and come away feeling that one viewing was already a bit too much, I was not expecting much from this. After all, Gorky is generally regarded as a notch or three below Dostoyevsky.

But whereas "The Idiot" did not begin to mesh with a Japanese idiom, "The Lower Depths" fits in very well indeed. Much of the film involves the hopes, dreams, schemes and machinations of a handful of characters, all fixated on escaping the tenement and its soul-numbing poverty.

An enigmatic old man who appears one day and spends some time in the hovel has a salutary effect on several of the residents, merely by dint of a level of kindness and sympathy that any of us would take for granted. When he leaves, the spark of compassion he has kindled dies quickly. Yet before he arrives and after he has left, there nonetheless remains a minimal spirit of camaraderie. I have not read Gorky's novel, but the "depths" here may (be taken to) refer to this bare-minimum level of feeling for one's fellow paupers.

Running through the script is the theme of lies and (self-)deception, and how they can ease the bitter reality that society's outcasts must face every day. This above all works well here, for the Japanese themselves have a utilitarian (so to speak) view of truth and falsehoods. The hoary Japanese adage "uso mo houben", often rendered "a white lie can be expedient", could have been a tagline for this movie; for the alcoholic ex-actor and several others have little other than self-delusion to help them get through another day.

Kurosawa manages to inject a measure of droll comedy while keeping the grim facts unprettified, showing us how the luckless souls at the very bottom of society grasp at the slimmest of hopes and somehow manage (...or don't manage) to keep on going. Superb.


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