As a devoted fan I feel obliged to give this film another deserving positive review. Some years ago I watched this film with my Father one Christmas and we were mesmerised. One of the few times we sat down to watch a film together, when everyone else had gone to bed. It was a shared experience that hushed us with its astonishing beauty. It does not have a complex plot. You simply sit back and enjoy the great Russian Taiga in all its weathers. Some of the cinematography is simply breathtaking. Visually this has to be the most beautiful film I have ever watched.
The film is one of Kurosawa's less well known works. It is very different to "The Seven Samurai" and "Ikiru", great films in their own right. A collaboration between Russia and Japan. Based on the enchanting true story "Dersu the Trapper", by the Russian cartographer V K Arseniev. Kurosawa and his crew filmed on location in Russia's Issuri region to bring this film home. Conditions at times were of Arctic ferocity as the crew battled against the elements. The results were worth it. Scene after sumptuous scene. The scene where Arseniev and Dersu race against time to build a shelter before the onset of night on frozen Lake Hanka is particularly memorable. There is also one astonishingly beautiful scene where the men are seen man hauling a sled over a frozen landscape into the burning embers of an emormous deep orange sunset.
The films story is simple enough. It concerns a friendship that develops between Arseniev who maps the pristine Taiga region of Russia in the early 1900s, and Dersu Uzala his local native Goldi guide. They are both good hearted men of principle. Dersu is selfless and puts others before himself. His kindness is repaid by good hearted Arseniev who takes Dersu into his own home when he ails. The two encounter adventures and enjoy the kinship of many a campfire together. Barriers of race and religion come tumbling down, to be replaced with friendship and respect between the two men. This friendship reminded me much of that between 'Hawkeye' and 'Chingachgook' in the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper. They became true brothers of the wild places.
The film does in fact bear great similarity to a frontier Western and we see the Russian frontier change as its Western counterpart also did. Not always for the better! Arseniev himself had the good sense to die just before he was about to be arrested in the new Russia. His widow was shot on flimsy evidence as a Japanese spy. Many films have been called epics that are not. Sometimes they need something that cannot be clearly defined to fit that criteria. Dersu achieves it effortlessly. One important tip is to watch the film in the original sub titled Russian and not the awful American dubbed version which destroys the soul of a great film.
I have gone back to this film many times and it has a special place in my heart. You may have guessed already that it is a personal favourite, hence an unashamedly more personal review. I have watched a few films and many of my favourites would be amongst those selected by film critics. Perhaps not this one! Well film is personal and I am entitled to my aberrations. Watch it and enjoy keeping company with Arseniev and Dersu over the campfire, for they are the very best of companions!. Oh and the ending. No I will not spoil it. Watch the film yourself. Perhaps as a treat on a quiet Christmas night. My father is dead now, but the memory of that shared film experience and the fleeting companionship we shared with two good men was something never to be forgotten! Be enthralled!
on 11 July 2009
I saw the original film in the cinema ages ago with my father. Back then, it lasted almost 4 hours. I was just a kid at that time, but I will never forget that first meeting with Dersu. Some years later I recorded the film on Betamax from Swedish Television (I'm Danish and I can understand swedish without problems). But that tape was destroyed when the basement flooded after a heavy rain. So you can understand my excitement when I found out that I could get a DVD copy of Dersu Uzala from Amazon. I think it is the best film I have ever seen. I could hardly wait to unpack it when I received it. It was just like meeting a dear old friend again! But I'm rather disappointed with the quality of the DVD copy: It's just like a copy of a copy of a copy. And it spands two DVD's, that should not be necessary. That's why I didn't gave it 5 stars.
on 18 February 2001
This Kurosawa film is usually ignored by most viewers because it was made outside the realm of Japanese cinema. It was made in the Soviet Union, however, both the subject and the production of the film are pure Kurosawa creations. It deals with the relationship between a native Siberian hunter and a group of Soviet explorers. Kurosawa yet again showcases his talent by presenting us with a poignant, poetic tale of contrasting cultures in the harsh Siberian environment. This beautiful tale is further complemented by its breathtaking cinematography [this film must be viewed in widescreen]. It also won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. A great film for everyone.
on 9 August 2007
while it is pleasing that this has finally been released on region 2 it has to be noted that the print/trasfer is quite poor with grainy, murky colouring on what looks like a ntsc-to-pal conversion clearly taking away much of the impact of a film most noted for its visual beauty. Nevertheless, a remarkable film.
Dersu Uzala takes the best bits from, say, Andrei Tarvosky - the languishing and poetical visuals but omits his often gregarious and incomprehensible plots, to leave a fine mixture of storytelling, character building and epic scale. The cinematography is often breathtaking.
In two parts, the two and three quarter hour film, introduces us to an almost Siberian "Indian", the sort we might have seen in westerns from the '50s. Dersu Uzala is a simple trapper in his 70's, living from hand to mouth in the wastelands of Siberia. Lush in summer, bleak and raw (and arctic) in winter he relies totally on his instinct and experience. He has also escaped from a previous 'life'.
In the 19th century, a group of Russian army surveyors are mapping the area and become out of their depth in the relative wilderness. They stumble upon Dersu and they soon form an unbreakable bond and through a series of survival adventures and near death skirmishes with the inclement weather and nature itself the film moves with dignity and statesmanship.
What will happen to the ageing Dersu? Can this wild man ever be tamed? These are all the questions that this Oscar winning fable addresses - and more. Kurosawa's own life mirrored Dersu's alienation and for those of more used to the director's ruggedly brilliant black & white masterpieces made thirty odd years prior, will find this refreshing - and moving.
This is one film that can be enjoyed by all. Take it in one, or two sittings and let the warmth, frailty - and harshness - of one man and his surroundings wash over you.
This is a MAGNIFICENT film, a real monument of world cinema and I loved every minute of it! Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
1. The real story
In the beginning, there was a book, "Dersu Uzala", written by Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev (1872-1930). Arsenyev was an officer in Russian army under Tsar regime and in this quality he led numerous military expeditions across Eastern Siberia, mostly drawing maps and marking land for roads. His soldiers also occasionally clashed with "honghuzi" bandits (mostly Chinese), who roamed Eastern Siberian wilderness robbing native hunters and enslaving the women, who were later sold to brothels in China.
During his journeys across Ussuri basin between 1902 and 1907 Arseniev befriended a Nanai hunter named Dersu Uzala. The Nanai are an indigenous East Siberian nation, also known as Goldi, Hezhen or Samagir, who in times of Arsenyev were hunters, trappers and fishermen, but also frequently served as greatly appreciated scouts for the army. In our time around 13 000 live in Russian Siberia and 4500 in Chinese Manchuria.
Dersu Uzala was not a young man any more (he was probably almost 60 when he met Arsenyev) but he was still a great hunter, an excellent marksman and a greatly respected tracker. At one occasion he saved Arsenyev's life and with time they became close friends. In the book he published in 1923, already in Soviet times, Arsenyev described adventures and conversations they had during their travels through Siberian wilderness as well as period during which Dersu Uzala lived as his guest in his house in Khabarovsk.
Real Dersu Uzala died in 1908 and Arsenyev died in 1930. During the Great Terror, in 1937 his wife Margarita was arrested by NKVD - one year later she was murdered after a 10 minutes "trial" for "espionage". Their young daughter Natalya was initially spared, but ultimately arrested in 1941 for no apparent reason and send as slave to one of Gulag concentration camps.
2. Kurosawa's film
In 1971 and 1972 Akira Kurosawa lived a very difficult moment, as he couldn't find financing for new films - profoundly depressed, he even attempted suicide. Towards the end of 1972 he was approached by Soviets to come and turn an adaptation of "Dersu Uzala". The offer included a rather comfortable budget and quite a large autonomy in the writing of scenario and general artistic vision of the film (well, at least by Soviet standards).
Kurosawa quickly accepted and got to work. Because he wanted to make this film "feel" real he insisted to turn it really in Siberia, in harsh conditions - for that reason the production took some time and the film was ready only in 1975. The film was turned in Russian and all actors were from Soviet Union, even if initially Soviet authorities wanted a renowned Japanese actor to play the main role (Toshiro Mifune was approached).
Kurosawa however wanted to have a genuine Siberian to play Dersu Uzala and finally his vision prevailed and an experienced Soviet actor Maxim Munzuk, who belonged to Tuva nation, was selected. The Tuva look not very different from the Nanai, but as they live in less hostile environment, they were traditionally cattle herding nomads rather than hunters. Kurosawa's choice was as always excellent and Maxim Munzuk offered a STELLAR performance.
3. My impressions about the film
This is a great masterpiece, long but never boring. In principle there is not so much action in this film, the rhythm is slow and the main character speaks a broken pidgin (very well translated into English by the way) - and yet there is great magic in it, conjured by a great master. This film simply will not let you go - once you began, you will HAVE TO watch it until the very end...
Dersu Uzala is an amazing character. When we meet him, he is already aged and we quickly learn that life was not kind for him, NOT A BIT! And yet, there is such a great internal peace in this man, so much cheerful joy of living and such a harmonious relation between him and the rest of universe, that there is no place for even one drop of bitterness in his heart and no place for even one drop of evil in his soul. His opinions on nature and people are quite a deep thing to listen to - and they force into some reflexion. Last but not least, Dersu Uzala is a man who follows HIS OWN PATH, as he sees it fit - no matter what the consequences...
Arsenyev (played by Yuri Solomin, still with us in Year of Grace 2014), is also an endearing character. A well-meaning, calm and gentle man, he is fascinated by Dersu Uzala and is delighted when the latter accepts for a time his hospitality in Khabarovsk, so he can transmit some of his wisdom to his young son (who also instantly falls in love with the old hunter).
This film is basically about a triangle formed by Dersu Uzala, Arsenyev and Siberian wilderness, therefore other characters play only a very limited role.
To conclude, this film absolutely impressed me and enchanted me and I am certain I will watch it again one day - even if it quite sad towards the end. This movie is a SPLENDOR! Enjoy!
The 'march of progress’ is a theme that was not exactly new to Akira Kurosawa – a number of his 'Samurai films’ touch on the increasingly archaic image being attributed to 'traditional values’ – but nowhere has the film-maker attempted to address the inherent universal conflict between 'modern man’ and the innate forces of nature (and hence the planet) as he does so directly in his 1975 film, Dersu Uzala. Shooting in non-Japanese for the first time, as he tells the tale of real-life, early 20th century Russian army explorer, Vladimir Arseniev and his chance discovery in the remote East of the country of the film’s titular nomadic hunter, Kurosawa was also (notably for him) without a strong narrative thread for the film, but his episodic depiction of the budding (and deepening) sense of respect and friendship between the two, in the face of nature’s challenges and their totally contrasting backgrounds, represents a masterclass in subtle mood and underplayed emotion (in this respect to be rivalled, in my book, only by Ikiru from the man’s other films).
Of course, the film is also notable as an experience of the senses, with Messrs. Nakai, Gantman and Dobronravov ‘s cinematography simply stunning as Uzala, Arseniev and the latter’s colleagues battle their way through forest and across barren, frozen landscapes, accompanied by Isaac Schwartz’s eclectic soundtrack, whose mood changes dependent on character portrayed and level of dramatic intensity. Kurosawa also imbues the film with a sense of the other-worldly, as the wearying soldiers put their faith in God to guide them, whilst the curiosity that is Maksim Munzuk’s depiction of the modest, idiosyncratic Dersu confidently converses with wild animals, considers all elements of nature (animals, sun, water, fire, wind) equally deserving of humanity’s respect ('Man is very small before the face of nature’), but cowers in the face of the forest’s 'higher spirits’. And, even though Kurosawa’s film is certainly not bereft of moments of action and suspense, as the explorers have a close encounter with marauding bandits and come face to face with a tiger, whilst (in the film’s highlight sequence) Arseniev and Dersu defy a frozen death courtesy of the latter’s long-standing ingenuity, in the end it is via the emotive bond that has formed between Kurosawa’s main two protagonists where his film succeeds admirably as a poignant and (ultimately) profoundly moving piece of cinema.
on 24 January 2012
As with other reviewers, I saw this film ages ago when it first came out and immediately rated it as one of the best films I have ever seen. Not the typical Kurosawa film - little blood and no battles, except against nature. I have subsequently read the book, which is a true story of exploration in the Vladivostok area; the film is very close to the book. I waited for ages to get the DVD (ca. 6 years ago). Since then I have watched it regularly and it never fails to impress, even though I know what is coming. The DVD quality is not the best, but who cares? Superb acting, superb directing. A must see film.
on 28 June 2014
Amazon is not the place for an IMDB-type film review, so I'll stick to reviewing the product, and say that the Artificial Eye release is by far the best quality remastering of this fine film. It's still not great - the source film is not in the best of shape - but it is very watchable, and given that the original reels are long lost, as good as it is ever likely to get.
Nice extras too, with star interviews.
on 16 March 2007
Tolstoy apparently once described to a friend the thoughts of a crow they were both watching and the friend exclaimed 'By God, Lev Nikolaevich, you are that crow!' Well, Maxim Monguzhukovich Munzuk is Dersu Uzala. Kurosawa apparently waited years to make this film and was only eventually able to do so through Soviet funding. The wait was worth it: this is one of the finest films ever made. Why did we have to wait until 2007 for a Region 2 DVD?
My only concern is the loss of some of the essence of it on the small screen