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
Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Japanese cinema generally and of Kurosawa specifically. I've seen many of Kurosawa's movies but for quite some time I resisted Dodes'ka-den. Based on the first half of the movie, my hesitancy about seeing it was well founded. I cannot comment on the whole movie because I became intensely frustrated and walked out around the midpoint.
Dodes'ka-den shows people living in a junkyard somewhere in Japan. The characters are all very broadly drawn with no nuance in their portrayal. In other words, they are almost pure types: There are the two laborers who get drunk every night to the dismay of their slatternly wives; the urchin living in a car with his architecture-obsessed lunatic guardian; the nasty drunk and his semi-catatonic daughter who makes artificial flowers 20 hours a day; the aggressive nut job who picks fights; the catatonic nut job who likes ripping fabric into strips; the obsessive brush-maker and his slutty wife; the teenager who thinks he's a trolley driver and his highly religious mother....All of these people are hopeless misfits and outcasts; they display their various pathologies and vices ad nauseum during the film, and it wears thin pretty damned quickly...
There is no plot; rather, the film consists of a series of vignettes of the characters being weird and/or nasty either on their own or in various combinations. The scenes alternate regularly from one person to the next and so the time passes slowly onwards. Realism isn't the point here, and there isn't a hint of narrative -- it is a fantasy, but to what purpose? The antics of the characters seem forced, mannered, repetitive and flat. There is no discernible social critique or message. I felt the movie was nearly a complete waste, much like the lives of the people it portrays.
Again, these impressions are just from the first half of Dodes'ka-den. Perhaps something happens later that rewards the endurance (or passivity) of the hapless viewer who sticks around to see how it all ends up. I felt only the vaguest stirrings of curiosity about the ending as I raced out of the theater.
If you are really patient or undemanding, or someone who wants to see absolutely every Kurosawa film, you might consider seeing Dodes'ka-den. But for those of you who have feasted on Kurosawa's earlier, better-known movies this title is likely to be a severe disappointment.
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