DVD Reissue: Dodes’ka-den ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

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Dodes’ka-den – Criterion Collection DVD

Previously unavailable on Region 1, this 1970 film by Akira Kurosawa rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as The Seven Samurai or Ikuru; nonetheless, it stands out in his oeuvre as one of his most unique and impressionistic efforts. After 27 years (and nearly as many movies) into his career, this marked the first project that the great director shot in color-and it shows. Almost as if he was making up for lost time, Kurosawa saturates the screen in an explosion of every vivid hue imaginable, like an excited kid experimenting with his first 120-count box of Crayolas. Perversely, the subject matter within this episodic tale of life in a Tokyo slum (mental illness, domestic violence, rape, alcoholism, starvation, etc.) is as dark and bleak as its visual palette is bright and colorful. It’s challenging; but if you can give the director the benefit of the doubt and grant him the somewhat leisurely pace of the initial 30 minutes to get acquainted with the characters, your patience will be richly rewarded. The film creeps up on you with its genuine humanity, packing a real (if hard-won) emotional wallop by the devastating denouement. Criterion’s DVD features a lovely transfer and some nice extras.

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