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Film / Dodes'ka-den

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Dodes'ka-den is a 1970 film from Japan, directed by Akira Kurosawa.

It is a grim portrait of grinding poverty. The film spends a few days sketching out the life stories of the desperate residents living in a garbage dump. Among the plotlines followed:

  • Rokku-chan, a mentally disabled teenager who lives with his mother. Rokku-chan has a delusion that he is a train conductor.
  • Hatsu and Masuo, laborers who spends their time away from the factory drinking themselves into oblivion.
  • Katsuko, a nearly mute young woman who ekes out a meager existence making paper flowers, while her cruel alcoholic uncle abuses her.
  • A young boy and his father, homeless, who live inside a hollowed-out car while the father paints the boy an imaginary portrait of the grand mansion he's going to build.
  • Hei, a rag-picker who is deeply damaged, to the point of being mute and unable to communicate.

The people in the dump struggle to hold on to their dreams and their dignity in the midst of despair.

Dodes'ka-den was the first film Kurosawa had made since Red Beard in 1965 and the last he would make until Dersu Uzala five years later.note  It was the first film he had ever made in color and the first film he made without Toshiro Mifune and the rest of the stock company of actors he had been working with for most of his career. While critically acclaimed, it was a box office failure and drove Kurosawa to a suicide attempt in 1971.



  • The Alcoholic
    • The flower girl's uncle, who drinks all day and complains about the food she brings him.
    • Hatsu, who gets so hammered with his buddy that he can't tell the difference between his wife and his buddy's.
  • As You Know: "Your aunt is in the hospital for an operation", says the uncle to Katsuko.
  • The Atoner: Ocho, Hei's wife, who apparently caused his near-catatonia by cheating on him. She tries to get through to him and begs forgiveness, but fails.
  • Cool Old Guy: Tanba, the old man who serves as a sort of village elder. When a burglar enters his little hut and tries to make off with a box, the old man wakes up and says no, that's his tool chest. He then gives the burglar his cash and tells him to come back later for more, but to come in through the window.
  • Crapsack World: They live in a goddamn garbage dump.
  • Death of a Child: The boy dies after eating some tainted mackerel. And it's because his idiot father told him not to boil the fish.
  • Hollywood Autism: Rokku-chan is quite clearly autistic, even though it's not mentioned in the film. He's obsessed with trams, comes off as rude to other people when he's just blunt, and is always off in his own world.
  • Imagine Spot: The father is prone to these, imagining building an ornate mansion as a mental escape from his life of misery.
  • Kids Are Cruel: "Train freak!" shout the other kids of the neighborhood when Rokku-chan makes his imaginary journey. They also draw cruel pictures on the walls of the little shack where Rokku-chan lives with his mother.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Does Katsuko get pregnant after her uncle rapes her? Why even ask?
  • Mood Whiplash: Some of the broad comedy—the wife-swapping couple, the businessman with bizarre tics—is presented alongside some of the direly grim drama. The death of the little boy is followed immediately by the women of the neighborhood laughing at Hatsu and Masuo getting swapped around again.
  • Polyamory: Hatsu and Masuo's wives amuse themselves by switching husbands.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Katsuko's uncle turns out the light before raping her.
  • Really Gets Around: Ryo's wife. Of the five children in their household, apparently none of them are his.
  • Slice of Life: Nothing really happens. It's just a portrait of life amongst the poor.
  • The Speechless: Whatever went down with Hei and his wife, which apparently involved her being unfaithful, has left him so damaged he can't speak or communicate.
  • Suddenly Voiced: Katsuo never says a word until her final scene, where she explains to Okabe why she stabbed him.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Hei, who wanders around the dump without ever speaking. "He has the eyes of a dead man."
  • Title Drop: Dodes'ka-den is a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound a train makes, as repeated by Rokku-chan. This film is sometimes referred to in English as "Clickety-clack".
  • Untranslated Title: As noted above, it's a Japanese coinage for the sound of a train.

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