Director Akira Kurosawas transformation of Maxim Gorkys classic proletarian play, The Lower Depths
, demonstrates another side of the acclaimed filmmaker's remarkable versatility. In contrast to his usual broad canvas and kinesthetic filmmaking style, here he explores the possibilities of the stage, finding intimacy in his examination of a group of destitutes set, ironically, within Japans prosperous Edo period. Starring an ensemble cast that includes Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, and Minoru Chiaki, this adaptation is a Buddhist meditation on the human condition, a poignant yet comic investigation of one of Kurosawas favorite themes: the conflict between illusion and reality.
In faithfully adapting Maxim Gorky's classic play The Lower Depths
, Akira Kurosawa incorporated themes from several of his better-known films. Transplanted from the play's Russian setting to Japan's Edo (pre-Tokyo) period, the film cleverly places its poverty-stricken characters into a vividly Japanese context while retaining their tenacious defense against life's relentless miseries. As the title implies, the comedic drama unfolds literally in a hole--a dreary tenement sunken into a refuse-strewn landscape--where Kurosawa's superb cast breathes life into the hopes, dreams, and delusions of their characters. Landlady, thief, prostitute, tinker, actor... all but the cynical gambler live in desperate self-deception, and Kurosawa finds poignant humor in the ways they hold reality at bay. Toshiro Mifune excels as the thief, but this is perhaps Kurosawa's greatest ensemble achievement; lengthy rehearsals and multiple cameras resulted in a fluid, masterful film full of fine performances, confined to only two intimate settings yet embracing universal foibles of humanity. --Jeff Shannon
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