Kurosawa Lunch Special, Served With Miso Soup.
I love foreign films. I don’t actually enjoy watching them, but I love the film reviews that accompany them. Even if the review is good, there’s this great atmosphere of patronizing cultural supremacy evident in the reviewer’s tone, coupled with a strange fascination with the “Other” that could fuel an ethnographic doctoral thesis. I’m not saying they’re racist, it’s just that there tends to be a subtle air of condescension that pervades the piece, a back-handed insult that comes with every compliment. There’s all kinds of use of baby talk, words like ‘joyous’ and ‘splendid’ that makes it seem as if the review was written to congratulate a kindergarten nativity play. “Good for you Japan, taking time out from buying Edward Furlong records and trying to say ‘baseball’ long enough to make cute little films”. I’m no different, to be sure, but what I pride myself on is being concise, so I’m just going to cut to the chase of xenophobia and not waste your time and mine with platitudes.
Dodeskaden is the first color film from director Akira Kurosawa. Aside from discovering Kodak Vision stock, Kurosawa has also apparently discovered the zoom lens, an effect as off-putting as seeing feudal Japanese walking around in what looks like a grainy 70s cereal commercial. Bad film quality and weak colors aside, the film reminds me a great deal of an earlier, better Kurosawa film, called The Lower Depths, which similarly explored the stories of various denizens of a Japanese slum. The Lower Depths mixed in some comedy with the tragedy, which somehow made the darker elements all the more moving, like the acoustic bridge in the middle of a Dissection song. Dodeskaden, however, is all darkness and confusion. The confusion stems from the fact that there are too many characters, and since they’re all Asian, they all look the goddamned same to me. Eventually, in a long movie like Dodeskaden, they all blur together into indistinguishable blobs, and by the time the film draws to a close confusion has reduced me to yelling sushi orders at the screen. I’d say that things would be cleared up by name-tags, but judging by the way Japanese sounds, they all speak Klingon so I’d probably be even more confused by chicken scratches representing guttural laryngeals laminated in plastic. There is still enough of Kurosawa’s power and feel for period pieces to make for a worthwhile film, but it’s definitely not one of his strongest. I’d recommend Throne of Blood, High and Low, or the Kamikaze maki roll.