Akira Kurosawa's The Lower Depths, an adaptation of Maxim Gorky's classic proletarian play. Instead of his usual broad canvas, Kurosawa instead explores the possibilites of the stage in this film, finding intimacy in his e... more »xamination of a group of destitutes, set during one of Japan's most prosperous ages. Starring an ensemble cast led by frequent collaborator Toshiro Mifune, the film is a Buddhist meditation on the human condition, yet also a poignant and comic investigation of the conflict between illusion and reality.« less
Two Terrific Adaptations of Gorky's Lower Depths...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 07/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"LOWER DEPTHS (1936) by Jeam RenoirLower Depths is an intricate story of poverty and those who fall into the deepest of socioeconomic despair based on the writer Maxim Gorky's play with the same name. The story takes place in the outskirts of Paris in a poorhouse where Pépel (Jean Gabin), a thief, is planning a raiding. Pépel is having an affair, which he tries to break off, with Vassilissa (Suzy Prim), the proprietor's wife, as he has come to realize that he loves Natacha (Junie Astor), Vassilissa's sister. This provides much intrigue as Vassilissa wants her husband dead because she wants to leave the poorhouse. Gambling has driven the Baron (Louis Jouvet) to poverty and he has lost his administrative position at the ministry due to theft to cover for his gambling debts. When the Baron arrives home suicidal from one last disastrous gamble he searches for his gun in desperation. Instead the Baron discovers that he has a guest, Pépel, with whom the Baron builds a friendship as they spend the night chatting and playing cards. During the night Pépel finds out that creditors are about to repossess the Baron's mansion and the Baron is only a night away from same living conditions as Pépel.The majority of the story takes place at the poorhouse where a number of interesting characters provide much insight into how people end up in the lower depths of society. Renoir's adaptation of the Lower Depths was thoroughly appreciated by Gorky as Renoir concentrated on how people shift social class either up or down. This focus is enhanced by the cast with the exception of Junie Astor whose face remains as motionless as a dusty bust when she is in focus of the camera. Renoir's Lower Depths offers a terrific cinematic experience that leaves the audience with notions of social injustice and blissful love.LOWER DEPTHS (1957) by Akira KurosawaWhen Akira Kurosawa decided to adapt Gorky's Lower Depths to the silver screen he had already seen Jean Renoir's version of the film. Renoir was a film director whose cinematic genius Kurosawa genuinely admired as he later wrote in regards to Renoir, "...I would like to grow old in the same way he did." Kurosawa's direction of Lower Depth has the same intricate story of poverty and those who have fallen into the deepest of socioeconomic despair as Renoir's adaptation. However, unlike Renoir, Kurosawa grabs the cinematic moment in the initial scene where he pans the camera 360 degrees from within a massive hole displaying the upper edge of the abyss. This leaves a visual imprint in the mind which haunts the audience with the dread of falling into the abyss, which Renoir did not accomplish in his film as it had a different motive to tell the story. The story takes place in a poorhouse that lays in the bottom of the large hole, which is confused by people of high social status as a garbage dump. In the poorhouse there are a number of different characters such as Sutekichi the thief (Toshirô Mifune), Osugi the landlady, Okayo Osugi's sister, Rokubei Osugi's older husband, a former samurai, a prostitute, a craftsman, an actor, a priest, and a gambler among others. They complain about their struggles, get drunk, sing, gamble, and share their hopes as they share a roof together. Through their daily activities the character's different persona's emerge as they tell stories of their past, or dreams that they have to be above the pit in which they now live.Kurosawa's Lower Depths never leaves the pit in which the poorhouse exists as it instills an enhanced feeling of hopelessness, which lends support to the empathy that the audience builds for the desperation that the characters must feel. This desperate atmosphere is well-balanced by the priest that arrives to the poorhouse as he offers hope for those in need of it. The function of desperation and hope becomes a double edge sword that could inflict harm to those who use the two without care. Through Kurosawa's cinematic brilliance, desperation and hope are visualized and leave the audience with an excellent cinematic experience, which stimulates reflection in regards to the theme.CRITERION --
does a wonderful job putting both of these cinematic geniuses in the same dvd case as both films are excellent in their own way. In addition, Criterion submits both with interesting extras that will enlighten the audience of both adaptations of Gorky's play. This in an essential piece of cinema that is a must for anyone who loves cinema."
Kurosawa at his best
Charles Kress | Oakland, CA USA | 02/22/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This adaptation of Gorky's play "the Lower Depths" by the master director Akira Kurosawa is quite a labyrinth. Each player has a path to follow, a fate that binds. Just as the dying woman is inexorably bound towards death, the tinker, thief, geisha, gambler, samurai, and pilgrim all are caught in a chillingly hopeless web of life and death. Outwardly we see the bottom dwellers, society's dregs from post feudal Japan. Yet the poverty of the individuals is really a portrayal of the poverty of the spirit of Modern Life. The lack of connection to spirit condemns them and us to a life and death of mindless work, escapist illusion, apathetic indifference to other's suffering, and the selfishness and hopelessness of the narcissist. Kurosawa's adaptation of Gorky's "the Lower Depths" is brilliant. Kurosawa used the same group of actors for most of his Toho era films. He insisted on the most incredible attention to detail in his sets and costumes. He required this from the actors as well. His invisible presence is everywhere in the film. He brought out the best in the actors, set designers, writers, and camera operators. The attention to detail from beginning to end is awe-inspiring. That the movie is in Japanese is both a blessing and a curse. Since few of us understand Japanese, many of the nuances of the language are lost on us and we are at the mercy of the translators. On the other hand, the separation of the emotional quality of the actors voices from the meaning of the words adds a depth to the play. One could go into the different lives of the various characters, but this is best left to the viewer. Now that Kurosawa's movies are available on video tape and DVD, we can see them from a more personal level. Again this gain is offset by the loss of not seeing his movies on the big screen. Still I find a deeper understanding of Kurosawa emerges from the multiple viewings of his movies. Years ago when I saw his movies in the theaters, I bought a book on Kurosawa's movies. This helped me to see more into the depths of Kurosawa's psyche, but now that I can view his master works more carefully I get a better understanding and deeper appreciation of these great works of art."
"Kindness is one thing. Debt is another ..."
Kim Anehall | 04/20/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those who are most familiar with Kurosawa's epics, "The Lower Depths" may seem shocking in its austerity - there are only two sets (interior and exterior of the doss-house where the action takes place), there's no background music at all, and the script is a faithful line-for-line rendition of Maxim Gorky's play (a sort of Chekhov of the slums) transposed from Russia to Japan. Before shooting started, Kurosawa rehearsed solidly for six weeks, with the actors on set in full costume and makeup and the cameras rolling but empty. The result is the most phenomenal piece of ensemble acting I have ever seen. Every part in the play (no matter how small) is acted with extraordinary detail, realism, and humour (the cast features many of the "Kurosawa group", including greats such as Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada and Minoru Chiaki), captured by sensitive, unobtrusive (but nonetheless stylish) cinematography. The play itself resonates with the themes that run throughout all Kurosawa's work - humanism, class, and the ability (or inability) of human beings to face the truth. Although the play is often seen as despairing, this rigorously unsentimental production also contains an extraordinary and utterly unexpected sense of spontaneity and joy.The result is funny, profound, and heartbreaking."
An excellent double feature.
Ted | Pennsylvania, USA | 02/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This double feature by the Criterion Collection contains two versions of the film "The Lower Depths" based on the play by the Russian playwright, Maxim Gorky.
The set includes the 1936 French version "Les Bas-fonds" directed by Jean Renoir, and the 1957 Japanese version, Donzoko, directed by Akira Kurosawa.
The story is about a group of poor people living in a slum.The Japanese version is well adapted to portray the events during the Edo period in Japan. Both films are quite good and have fine scenes and some great photography. They are both critically acclaimed and are quite impressive.
The special features are quite good also but the lack of extras on the French film is disappointing.
Disc 1 contains the French version of the film with an introduction by director Jean Renoir.
Disc 2 contains the Japanese version of the film with optional audio comentary by Donald Richie, a set of Biographies of the main cast and, a chapter of the TV serial, "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create" which gives further information on the film including interviews.
This one is one that you should not miss."
Gritty and engrossing
Lani Hardage-Vergeer | Laytonville, CA USA | 12/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just saw the Lower Depths for the first time, and I found it to be one of Kurosawa's best. The tale will not win popularity contests with Western audiences-- the characters are all flawed, sad, poverty-stricken. It doesn't end all neatly tied up with a bow. But there are hilarious comic moments, an intriguing pilgrim character (who actually takes the limelight from Mifune), and a tragic love story. All this with Kurosawa's infallible camera work."