"No samurai here"
Dir. Akira Kurosawa; writ. Kurosawa, Yuri Nagibin, Vladimir Arseniev (journals); feat. Yuri Solomin, Maksim Munsuk, Suimenkul Chokmorov, Svetlana Danilchenko (G)

After rejecting an unsatisfactory Hollywood deal to work on Tora! Tora! Tora!, Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa returned to his homeland and made his first ever commercially unsuccessful film. This discouragement, his newfound inability to find funding for his films, and poor health apparently combined to cause the artist to attempt suicide in 1971.

A kind of revival came in 1973, when the Soviet Union offered Kurosawa what Japanese studios would not — freedom to direct a project of his own choosing. Dersu Uzala, drawn from the journals of a Russian explorer, was a project that had long fascinated the filmmaker — the tale of an Army officer who, on multiple trips into dangerous wilderness, befriends a hunter whose skills are invaluable.

Dersu is a character who will be familiar to Americans who have seen plenty of wise old Indians in post-classical Westerns; a somewhat crotchety man whose ways are strange to civilized folk, but who can tell when the rain is about to break or when a tiger walks nearby. He's played with charm by Munsuk, while Solomin, as the captain, plays his straight man. Captain Arseniev's life is saved more than once by the old man, and Arseniev comes to view him with a love as devoted as any teenage sweetheart.

The film moves at a slow pace by Western standards — largely because dramatic sequences that would be energized by an orchestral score in America are left au natural here. But it's beautiful and heartfelt, and even more poignant — considering the state the filmmaker was in at the time — for the melancholy themes that run through the tale. It's probably the least typical film Kurosawa ever made, but it's not one to overlook.

Tuesday, July 30
$10 members, $12 non-members
AMC Huebner Oaks

Also available on DVD from Kino.

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More by John DeFore

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March 25, 2020


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