Dersu Uzala B+, B
Russia/1964/English Subtitles/Widescreen 2.35:1/Mono/140 minutes/Directed by Akira Kurosawa/Starring Yuri Solomin, Maxim Munzuk/Voyager/29 Chaps/CLV/$49.95
Fans of Kurosawa will rejoice at the arrival of Dersu Uzala on laser disc. This is Kurosawa at his most contemplative, pondering the interaction of man and nature and man and man. The most exciting moments of this outdoor drama are restrained and the tension evolves from the patient methodology of the filmmaker. Whether rescuing Dersu from impending river rapids or frantically cutting stalks of grass to build a shelter against the menacing icy night, it is the pacing of these scenes that mesmerize the viewer.
The film is structured in three acts along with a prologue and epilogue. In 1902, Captain Arseniev leads a Russian surveying expedition to Siberia where he encounters Dersu, a native huntsman, who impacts upon the mission and the captain. After surviving the journey, Dersu and the Arseniev part, with their emotions finally trying to connect as each calls out the other's name over the increasing distance. Five years later, Arseniev heads a mission to Siberia and again connects with Dersu, but the years have taken their toll on the aging hunter and by this journey's end it becomes more and more apparent. The captain asks Dersu to come back with him to stay at his home in a small city. Dersu agrees out of a combination of love and desperation. The short third act depicts Dersu as a fish out of water living with Arseniev's family until it is obvious that Dersu belongs in his beloved woods.
Rest assured that the Kurosawa camera for focus on the visual splendor that the stark winter landscapes and the dense forests have to offer. Just as the wilderness offers a majestic stillness, so too do the widescreen compositions. The elegance and simplicity of style are directly related to the subject matter. Just as Arseniev learns so much from the simple hunter Dersu, we too can hear the voice of the still woods.
The widescreen framing of Dersu Uzala is extremely important. Kurosawa uses the entire anamorphic aspect to compose exquisite images. The transfer also recreates the delicate lighting that is a hallmark of this film. There a number of scenes composed around a crackling fire which have been wonderfully captured. The faces are warmly lit and the atmosphere is wholly captured. The image is sharp on the disc and the colors, while not striking, seem true to the artistic vision. There are a number of scenes that exhibit element damage, but the scratches and dirt are visible only in short bursts and it does not undermine the impact of this visually stunning movie. The sound is adequate. Voyager has included an dubbed English soundtrack on the analog tracks and while I usually find dubbing disconcerting, this has been well done. Dersu is not a dialogue dependent film and there is quite a bit of narration. The actors doing the dub are also quite accomplished and the voices don't weaken the character portrayals. The white subtitles appear in the black band underneath the film creating an overall 1.85 aspect ratio when combined with the 2.35 image. All in all, this is a satisfying disc and a welcome addition to the lexicon of Kurosawa on laser.