Following World War II, a retired professor approaching his autumn years finds his quality of life drastically reduced in war-torn Tokyo. Denying despair, he pursues writing and celebrates his birthday with his adoring students.
An anthology of overlapping vignettes exploring the lives of a variety of characters who happen to live in a suburbial shantytown atop a rubbish dump: The boy Roku-chan lives in a fantasy world in which he is a tram conductor. In his fantasy world, he is both the tram and the tram driver and follows a set route and schedule through the dump, reciting the refrain "Dodeska-den", "clickety-clack", mimicking the sound of his vehicle. Ryotaro, a hairbrush maker by trade, is saddled with supporting many children whom his unfaithful wife Misao[c] has conceived in different adulterous affairs, but is wholeheartedly devoted to them. A pair of drunken day laborers (Masuda and Kawaguchi) who engage in wife-swapping, only to return to their own wives the next day as though nothing has happened. A stoic, bleak man named Hei is frequented by Ocho who appears to be his ex-wife, and he watches emotionless as she takes care of his domestic chores. Shima, the man with the tic, is always defending his ...Written by
Dodes'ka-den is the monotonous sound of the trolley clickety-clacking down the rails; the mindless drone of a brain damaged or retarded "trolley freak" acting out his repetitive fantasy in the Tokyo city dump where he lives with his long-suffering mother; and, a cinematic masterpiece from Kurosawa.
The film doesn't have a traditional plot, it's a snapshot of the lives of a strange ensemble of characters who live in the dump. (In much of the third world today, municipal dumps are inhabited by poor people who scavenge trash to make their living. It wasn't that long ago that the same was true in the US, by the way. In the late 1800's the NYC dump was home to a population of desperate scavengers too.) Kurosawa does his usual brilliant job of creating a full spectrum of characters, except that here most of them are damaged and dysfunctional. Kurosawa is loved for his portrayals of honor, courage, and heroism. Some find it more difficult to appreciate his unblinking examination of loss, failure, wickedness and despair. This film lays bare some of the dark corners of the human heart, and presents the full spectrum of human reality, warts and all - but with an emphasis on the warts.
It's not a dark film nonetheless. These tragic blighted lives are shown with zen clarity and humor. We see a cross-section of human psychology, both good and bad, and the genius of Kurosawa makes it clear that each of us share the feelings and foibles of these Tokyo dregs.
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