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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.
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  • Shima, a properly-dressed and well-liked gentleman, with a number of strange and disconcerting physical tics and a perpetually angry antisocial battleaxe of a wife.
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.


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Tropes:

  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: When one of his coworkers who he invited to his house gets angry over his disrespectful wife and thinks he should divorce her, Shima pins him against the ground and tells him that since his wife stuck with him through all of his numerous misfortunes including having to life off meager amounts of rice they scammed off merchants by moistening the pot they used to measure the rice beforehand so some of the rice got stuck to it when they were invariably denied credit and had to pour it back, she's the best wife he could ever hope to have and he'll never divorce her for any reason.
  • 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. When a policeman ends up capturing the burglar and brings him back to Tanba's house so he can identify the burglar, he repeats what Tanba said and did when he broke in, to which Tanba insists that he dreamed up the whole thing, letting the burglar go free due to lack of evidence.
  • 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, insisting that it was fine because it was pickled, boiling it will ruin the taste and whoever told him to boil it was wrong.
  • Gonk: The beggar is by far the ugliest person living in the dump, with extremely ragged clothes, long unkempt hair and a crazy wide-eyed stare, which makes it no surprise that he has to rely on his son to do most of the actual begging for both of them.
  • Fake Assisted Suicide: One of the people living in the dump feels like he has nothing left to live for anymore and asks Tanba for something that he can use to end his life: he obliges him and gives him some powder that, according to him, was "used by all the greatest alchemists" and which will "kill him in an hour from when he takes it". He eagerly takes it and Tanba gets him to reminisce about his life, stating that when he sleeps, he's the happiest since he can talk to his dead wife and son in his dreams, as if they were still alive. Tanba then states that if both of them are still alive in his dreams, killing himself will also kill the remnants of his wife and son, at which point he realizes his mistake and starts panicing, asking for an antidote for the poison, to which Tanba assures that there's always one for every poison and starts absentmindedly looking for one, while the man gets more and more desperate, until finally Tanba tells him to calm down and says that he only gave him some stomach medicine.
  • 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.
  • Hope Spot: As the beggar's and his son's health worsens due to their food poisoning and they've had to go on without food on an extended perioid of time since the son is naturally far more successful at getting leftover food for both of them, the beggar has to go get some himself and actually manages to get some, and the son also seems to be feeling better, as he brings up the subject of a swimming pool for their imaginary house...only for him to let out a shriek and finally succumb to his illness as the beggar is in the process of heating up some of it to disinfect it.
  • Imagine Spot: The father is prone to these, imagining building an ornate mansion as a mental escape from his life of misery.
  • Jerkass: Shima's wife is a major one: she pulls off outer leaves off a cabbage she's planning to buy because she doesn't want to pay for "limp leaves" since the cabbages are priced by weight, yells at the salesman when he says she can have it for free, saying she doesn't want his charity...and when his back is turned, she just loads the leaves she pulled off earlier into her basket anyway. Later, when Shima's coworkers are coming over, she doesn't greet them, complains about them being a hassle, throws the food she made onto the table in front of them and walks away without acknowledging them further, leading to one of them getting enraged at Shima as described above.
    • One of the workers at one of the restaurants the beggar's son visits also qualifies as one, as she purposefully dumps an entire ashtray full of cigarette butts on a plate of half-eaten food to ruin it just because she doesn't like him, with the dishwasher telling her off for it.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Katsuko's uncle keeps making excuses so that he doesn't have to get questioned by the police in regards to her stabbing Okabe, being afraid that they'd be able to find out that he raped her. This works for the most part, but after Katsuko hears that Okabe will survive the stabbing and doesn't want to press charges on her, she tells the police that she wants her uncle to be there so that she can tell him something. Figuring out the jig is up, he scrambles to pack his things and runs out of the house, with Otane calmly making paper flowers and seemingly innocently asking why he's so agitated if he didn't actually rape Katsuko like people claim.
  • Silly Walk: One of Shima's numerous tics.
  • 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 Speaking: Katsuo never says a word until her final scene, where she tries to explain 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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