Made in 1970, this film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1972. This is Kurosawa's first color film, and there seems to be an almost psychedelic overlay to his production palette. The story revol... more »ves around a collection of characters held together only by the frayed thread of poverty. Rokkuchan (Yoshitaka Zushi), a teenager with the mind of a boy, is obsessed with trolley cars. He draws them from every angle in vivid colors. His despondent mother (Kin Sugai) hangs them lovingly on the walls and windows of their simple home. Every morning Rokkuchan goes out to his imaginary trolley car and makes his way through the surrounding slums. His neighbors include a humble man with a terrible limp and an unforgiving wife, two couples who color-coordinate their husband-swapping, and a sad derelict man with an adoring but doomed little boy. During the day, father and son pass the time building a dream house in their minds. At night they sleep in an abandoned car. While visually compelling, the film lacks connection between the characters, which leaves the viewer feeling disjointed and somehow lessens the emotional impact of these tragic stories. But as a slice-of-life look at how people maintain simple dignities in the face of great hardship, it is definitely a film worth seeing. --Luanne Brown« less
First colour film by Kurosawa is sadly underrated work
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 01/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If I were living like any of the people of the Tokyo slums in Akira Kurosawa's first colour film, Dodes'ka-den, like them, I'd be living in illusion and imagination to counter the squalid conditions. Living for them, but in my case, it'd be drowning. That's the premise of this movie, a testament to the human spirit and how it keeps on going despite adversity.There's no plot in this film, as it tells of the various people living in the slums, some in coloured tin corrugated roofs, others in dirty, dingy travesties of huts, and in the case of an oddball boy who pretends he's a streetcar conductor and spends all day shuffling to who knows where. He goes through the motions, putting on his cap, pushing the buttons, pulling levers, and muttering the words "Dodes'ka-den." Which leads to the title. It's a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound a train makes on the tracks. Roughly translated, it's like clackety-clack. The smaller kids who see him throw pebbles at him and cry out "trolley crazy."My favourite characters are the bedraggled derelict and his young son who live in a beaten up, wheelless VW bug. The son goes out at night and gets scraps from a friendly sushi shop man. During the day, the father discusses their dream house, and we see his designs, from the gate, fence, and house, come alive, with dramatic sounds and colour. He must have been an architect or designer, and he escapes his squalid condition by envisioning a dreamhouse. There's a vivid example of colour cinematography at work, when standing under glaring yellow sky, we see the eerie blue light cast on him and his son, ill from food poisoning.The drunken buddies who swap wives are two of the most colourful, but there's an interesting theme. Both couples are colour coordinated, clothes, house, even wash basins. And at times, they swap wives. The yellow husband is so drunk, he stays at his buddy's red house and with his wife, while his buddy goes to his house. Wonder how many bottles of sake they drink after work. But the wifeswapping has dual meaning, an escape from the ordinary, but also a lack of symmetry that is restored when both yellow-coded husband and wife are reunited and the same with the red-coded couple.Then there's Tamba, the druggist, a man in his seventies or early eighties who's a wise, sage, and compassionate character. The way he defuses a violent sword-wielding drunk is amazing! I won't get into specifics but he shames the drunk into going to bed. He also helps a man wanting to commit suicide a reason to go on living. He seems to represent the face of an older and uncomplicated Japan, experienced by the past, living as he can in the present.Hei is the most haunting, and his eyes are that of a dead man. He never says a word in the movie, and it's clear that he has been deeply traumatized by something in his past, which we learn later. It's as if his soul has been drained. A character looks at a tree and wonders what kind of tree it is, before saying "it's no longer a tree when it's dead." Substitute man for tree and we get Hei. Oh, and me as well.Shima is a salaryman who's nice enough, but he has a funny walk nearly like the Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks man and a facial tic that drives him into a brief fit, complete with snorting. The tic represents that there's more to a person than a mere flaw.Some of the info we get from the gossiping circle of women who spend the day doing the laundry in the slum square, including a sensuous long-haired woman who seems to know it all, and witnessing the parade of life.This was Kurosawa's first of seven colour films and its failure culminated in him attempting suicide. Understandable, as despite its being panned, it's actually a sober, at times depressing, but ultimately hopeful look at people. Very underrated film that's deeply in need of reappraisal."
And now for something really different...
Daniel J. Hamlow | 01/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kurosawa's first color film originally came in at 244 minutes and the studio executives were aghast. They quickly cut it to about 140 minutes and reportedly destroyed the original negative in so doing. This along with the lack of public and critical acceptance at the time drove the great genius to a suicide attempt. In it's original form it could well have been Kurosawa's great masterpiece. As it is, it's a little quixotic and hard to follow, but a stunning piece of movie making. The children's train drawings shown during the prayer scenes were collected by Kurosawa from children all over Japan for this film. It is pointless to recap the story, but I just say to you see it and you'll never forget it. Perhaps Criterion could find the orignal version when it comes out on DVD, let's hope so!"
Felipe "Sushi" | St. Louis, MO USA | 02/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I remember seeing this movie on TV a while back and always wanting to watch it again, but found it too hard to find. I don't like how underrated this movie is. Sure its not as good as Kurosawa's masterpieces like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ran (what movies are?) but it still deserves attention, as it is a great film nonetheless. Like a Yasujiro Ozu film (Floating Weeds, A Tokyo Story) this movie has a pretty simple story and characters, but deep emotions. I finally got my hands on the import DVD and its better than I even remember it. When I heard that this movie has been shaved off 100 minutes and the complete, uncut edition can't be found anywhere, I was kinda depressed. I mean, this is already a great film, but with those extra 100 minutes, (if they were really good!), could have rivaled Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ran as Kurosawa's masterpiece. But I guess we'll never know unless some DVD company (cough, cough... Criterion Collection) can find the original negative and give us the complete edition on DVD. How sad... a great movie like this being a box office failure, it deserves so much better than this. No wonder Kurosawa attempted suicide! Oh, well, this movie is fine as it is and still great in its cut version. I just really hope I can see the complete version someday! If you are a Kurosawa fan, you should still buy this movie! (don't be turned off at the fact that this was a commercial, financial, and box office failure!)"
Scott | Spokane, WA USA | 11/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It doesn't say it in the Amazon description or the video box, but the film is letterboxed to about 1.66:1 (which appears to be the original aspect ratio).
Since Kurosawa was a master of using the whole frame, this is very good news. I was prepared to live with a pan-and-scan edition; finding that it was letterboxed was a very nice surprise.
Also, according to the IMDB trivia page, the "244-minute original running time" is a myth."
Clackety-clack: a brilliant look at poverty in Japan (or any
Bomojaz | South Central PA, USA | 01/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Kurosawa's first color film and a magnificently poignant and deeply human tribute to a group of slum dwellers living in a modern Japanese city. It consists of a series of vignettes, all held together by their commonly shared poverty motif, and are about: a dreamer who imagines building a mansion and his son who dies from eating spoiled food he's begged from restaurants; a crippled man who defends his ungrateful wife; a young girl who slaves for her drunken uncle who gets her pregnant; a kind old man who gives away what little he has to a thief; two drunken men who exchange wives and then switch back again; a blind man who cannot forgive his adulterous wife; and a retarded boy who imagines he operates a trolley car and goes up and down the streets hollering "Dodes 'ka-den" (which means "clackey-clack"). The scenes are at once heartbreaking and comic, and not for a moment does Kurosawa stoop to sentimentality or preachiness. The cinematography is stunning. A major movie-watching experience."