DÔDESUKADEN (Akira Kurosawa, 1970)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Shugoro Yamamoto’s The Town Without Seasons includes the stories upon which Akira Kurosawa drew for Dôdesukaden, one of his most trenchant and haunting achievements. The film, Kurosawa’s first in color, is set in a Tokyo slum. The title is a word that Yamamoto coined; it is the sound of the imaginary streetcar that a feeble-minded boy, Rokkuchan, repeats over and over as he trots and shuffles along, circumventing piles of garbage, going through the motions throughout the area of being the car’s conductor. Thus Rokkuchan copes with both his limitations, mental and socioeconomic, in the same way: by imagining himself beyond them. This makes life bearable; at least he can pretend—and believe—that he is a productive worker, and in a respectable position. Otherwise, all that sustains him and his careworn mother, with whom he lives, are their Buddhist prayers—another version of his trolley-chant!
     An antecedent to this film is Kurosawa’s The Lower Depths (1957), from Gorky’s play. Dôdesukaden also weaves a tapestry of assorted impoverished human lives. Imagination ameliorates the trauma of poverty for Rokkuchan but falls against hard limits for others. The imaginary dream-house that a beggar builds for his son, with the boy’s own input, cannot protect the child from painful illness and death. Ocho’s single lapse of infidelity, more an imaginative leap out of the poverty with which she identifies her marriage than out of the marriage itself, becomes unforgiveable to Hei; he also is striking out at her as a way of striking out at his status and struggles. He is consumed with anger; she, with guilt—and her trek when, tossed out by Hei, she wanders off amidst a bleak landscape signals imagination’s suicidal end.
     The final shot is heart-piercing: pictures of trolleys adorning the walls of Rokkuchan’s hut. Hopes, dreams, delusions.

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