Dersu Uzala (1975): Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's lyrical masterpiece

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Maksim Munzuk as Dersu Uzala, Yuri Solomin as Captain Vladimir Arseniev, dersu uzala hunted bear potrait, directed by  akira kurosawa
Dersu Uzala (1975)- By Akira Kurosawa
Our Rating: 10.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.2
GenreAdventure | Drama
CastMaksim Munzuk, Yuri Solomin, Svetlana Danilchenko
Language: Russian | Chinese
Country: Soviet Union  |  Japan
Runtime: 144 min
ColorColor (Sovcolor)

Summary: The Russian army sends an explorer on an expedition to the snowy Siberian wilderness where he makes friends with a seasoned local hunter.

Dersu Uzala is a Russian motion picture directed by Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa. It is not merely a landmark in art cinema, but it is also a living proof that greatness can be accomplished even with sheer simplicity. And for this very reason, Dersu Uzala also happens to be an all time favorite movie of this critic. Dersu Uzala went on to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the year 1976. Akira Kurosawa made Dersu Uzala with Russian collaboration at a time when no Japanese producer was willing to back a project involving Kurosawa—this was after Kurosawa's first color motion-picture Dodesukaden had failed miserably at the box office, thereby leaving his newly established production studio in a state of shambles. Storytelling is undoubtedly one of the most potent tools known to man, but seldom has he resorted to simplicity as an epiphanic tool. While man has always found ways to amuse the mankind by spinning the yarn of his imagination, he has almost always resorted to themes of grandeur, fantasy, and  resplendence as elements of revelationOnly a handful of storytellers like Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray have shown the grit and perspicacity to use simplicity as the weapon to incite and hence portray the deepest human emotions on the celluloid.

Maksim Munzuk as Dersu Uzala, Best Foreign Picture Oscar winning Russian Adevnture Drama Film, Directed by Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa

Maksim Munzuk as Dersu Uzala

Widely regarded as Kurosawa's lyrical masterpiece, Dersu Uzala is a poignant tale of compassion, trust, friendship, and respect between two contrasting individuals: a nomadic hunter and an army explorer. Captain Arseniev and his troops are on a topographic expedition, and while camping during a night they get acquainted with Dersu Uzala  an aboriginal (Goldi) tribesman. Arseniev, being fully aware of the handicap of exploring an alien territory without having an indigenous tribesman  in the ranks, asks Dersu to be their guide. Humbled by Arseniev's politeness, Dersu obliges his offer almost immediately. We soon witness a great sense of camaraderie developing between the two as Dersu grows in stature from being a mere guide to a stalwart and a friend in the eyes of Arseniev. The long years of experience had equipped Dersu with a great sense of intuition and psychic-like abilities to anticipate change and danger. Dersu uses his skills to good effect as he maneuvers captain and his troops through the harsh Siberian terrain, sheltering and guarding them from the cruelties and wilderness of the Tundra. Behind the façade of a rugged hunter, we get to see a man of profound intellect and deep compassion in Dersu, who risks his own life on several occasions to save Arseniev and his men.

Dersu Uzala, A panoramic view of the Tundra, Sun and Moon in one single frame, Dersu Uzala and Captain Arseniev, Best Foreign Picture Oscar winning Russian Adevnture Drama Film, Directed by Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa
Dersu Uzala: A panoramic view of the Tundra  
Dersu Uzala is not just a movie, but is an experience of a lifetime. Dersu Uzala is the only movie that Akira Kurosawa shot in a language other than Japanese. Kurosawa uses his auteurist mastery to bring the memoirs of Russian explorer, Vladimir Arsenyev to life as he inexplicably elevates cinema to new levels of poignancy and pristineness. The cinematography is breathtakingly picturesque and it evokes a sense of melancholy that makes the majestic Siberian wilderness appear hypnotic, and at times surreal. The panoramic shot of Dersu and Arseniev looking at the horizon caparisoned with the juxtaposition of the setting sun and the rising moon is also indicative of their respective lives: Dersu is long past his prime and there is no hope for revival, but Arsieniev's is still in his prime and has a long life ahead. Dersu Uzala is strongly suggestive of the sole consistency in human life: change. It also demonstrates the might of nature as an unforgiving force, potent enough to humble even the most savage of the creatures. Dersu Uzala can also be termed as an allegorical account of the environmental imbalance that the unrestrained human intervention is causing. 

Japanese movie-maker Akira Kurosawa
Japanese movie-maker Akira Kurosawa
Dersu Uzala is one of those rare cinematic gems which can be relished again and again, each time with a completely different view point. With Dersu Uzala, Kurosawa proved it once and for all that cinema at its most pristine, knows no bounds or barriers. Kurosawa demonstrated the might of simplicity as an element that can pack a punch for the first time in Ikiru, and followed it up with an unending list of pristine cinematic masterpieces including Seven Samurai. But, even Kurosawa's staunchest critic would not find it hard to concede that cinema does not get any purer than Dersu Uzala. Dersu Uzala accentuates the enormous potential of cinema as the most consummate medium of human expression. In fact, there are not many works of cinema that can come close to matching the raw power of this timeless masterpiece by the Japanese master filmmaker. It's a must watch for anyone who loves and understands unadulterated cinema. 10/10

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated! 

For Best Films by Akira Kurosawa, please click here

For more information on the title, please click on the following links:



Dersu Uzala Trailer

For more of Kurosawa on A Potpourri of Vestiges, please click on the following links:

Rashomon (1950)

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  1. Akira Kurosawa is undoubtedly one of the greatest movie-makers of all time. Dersu Uzala is a living testament to his greatness. Nicely written, indeed.

  2. The woorld of cinema owes a colossal debt to the Japanese master. He has indeed played a critical role in redefining cinema as an Art form with movies like Rashomon, Yojimbo, Ikiru, Ran, High and Low, Seven Samurai Red Beard, Kagemusha, Hidden Fortress, etc.

  3. Excellent writeup of an overlooked film (which is sadly the case for many Kurosawa films that do not feature samurai, Ikiru and Stray Dog being the two major exceptions).
    Kurosawa is, of course, an absolute master. Just about anything he touched is worth watching. I wanted very badly to follow up my book on Alfred Hitchcock's films with one on the works of Akira Kurosawa, but my coauthor is not a Kurosawa fan, and other projects ended up monopolizing my time.
    Maybe one day.
    Anyway, keep up the good work, Murtaza. I'm enjoying your blog.

  4. Thanks a lot for those kind words Eric! Such words of motivation actually keeps a budding writer like myself going.
    I have been lucky enough to watch Ikiru, but am yet to get my hands on Stray Dog. I hope to do that very soon. Btw, I myself am a big Hitchcock fan (Unlike the usual trend, Vertigo and North by Northwest happen to be my absolute favorite).
    It would indeed be wonderful if you can actually come up with a similar book on Kurosawa. In fact, I would want to be the first person to savor it. I wish you all the best for the same.

  5. 'Dersu Uzala is strongly suggestive of the sole consistency in human life: change. It also demonstrates the might of nature as an unforgiving force, potent enough to humble even the most savage of the creatures. "

    Yes, it's about more than the harmony of man and nature.

  6. Dersu Uzala is very close to my heart. In fact, it's my second favorite movie of all time, after Kurosawa's Ran. Dersu Uzala is quite easily one of the most powerful films ever made in the history of cinema. I have never seen a movie in my life which could humble a human being like Dersu Uzala does.


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