Made at the tail end of a difficult professional period, Akira Kurosawa’s 1970 return after a five-year absence doesn’t exactly showcase the master at his best. Despite the breathtaking visuals, his grim fairy tale about a community of working-class eccentrics is an uneven mixture of bleakness and sappiness. An exploited young woman, two cartoonish drunks and a ghostly father-and-son duo play out their melodramas in front of an expressionistic junkyard set; by the time a daydreaming youngster passes by on his pantomime trolley for the tenth time, the Chaplinesque pathos has reached critical mass. Still, you can’t fault Criterion’s presentation of Kurosawa’s first color film, one in which bright reds and lemonish yellows practically pop off your TV screen. There’s only a single extra besides the trailer, but it’s a valuable one: a chapter of the BBC’s multipart doc Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create, which discusses the director’s exile preceding Dodes’ka-den, and how this project kicked off his creative second act.
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