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Lower Depths, The (1957)

Down, baby, down
Indeed, yes very quite low

Genre: Period Drama (Japan)

Starring: Toshirô Mifune (Stray DogDrunken Angel), Bokuzen Hidari (Seven SamuraiIkiru)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (DodesukadenDersu Uzala)

Overview: An old Buddhist enters the lives of society's dregs in their decrepit tenement, offering guidance and hope to the drunks and the dying. Still, spirituality is not enough to help everyone, what with the deceit, blackmail and murderous rages of the other tenants, not to mention his own dark past.

I am not a fan of theatre-based films. When a play is the original source material, movies tend to suffer in visual dynamic. Less movement, less scenes in different places, a more 'wooden' (read: cheap) set design style is the lane of least resistance for this sort of story. That being said, yes The Lower Depths is not one of Kurosawa's epic masterworks, but it is quite entertaining.

We open with an above view of some rickety homes in a gulley, perhaps even better described as a pit. Someone wanders up to the edge, saying "it's just a garbage dump", and tosses his trash onto one of the roofs. Already Kurosawa has shown that he won't be skimping out on atmosphere simply because the budget isn't grand.

From there we explore the lives of the people living in The Lower Depths. An old wise man, a successful thief (Mifune), their fence of landlord, his wife and her sister live alongside a whore, some lazy drunks and a tinker with a dying wife who knows he's better than the rest of the layabouts.

If things aren't complicated enough, the thief, the landlord's wife and her sister are caught in a twisted love triangle.

The film, which was also adapted and directed by Jean Renoir in 1936, includes themes of despair, moral ambiguity and characters that deny the truth about their lot in life.

For those of you who enjoyed the squeaky bed scene in Delicatessen, you'll also enjoy a similar synchronicity of the gambling tenants as they sing about money being the root of all evil, certainly a rhythmic bit of fun. 

lower still!
Nope, lower still.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (Immersive)

A most pleasant surprise was seeing Bokuzen Hidari, everyone's favourite old-farmer peasant from Seven Samurai fame in the role of the old Buddhist. I also discovered another joy to be found in studying someone's entire oeuvre. Rather than only seeing what is knows to be Kurosawa's masterpieces, I can take my time in enjoying what would otherwise have been missed worthy yet unknown films like this one.

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