Classic Review – Dersu Uzala (1975)

Title – Dersu Uzala (1975) 

Director – Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai

Cast – Maksim Munzuk, Yuriy Solomin

Plot – The true story of Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenev (Solomin) who is sent into the Siberian wilderness by the Soviet Union, an expedition that will lead him to meet future friend and life changing accomplice Dersu Uzala (Munzuk), a nomadic hunter whose knowledge of the land will prove paramount to Arsenev’s work. 

“How can people live in a box?”

Review by Eddie on 06/06/2022

In a career littered with classics that have continued to be spoken about as some of the best feature film products the industry has ever known, the Soviet-Japanese produced Oscar winning epic Dersu Uzala remains one of Akira Kurosawa’s most underrated and rarely spoken about efforts.

His only non-Japanese language film in a decades spanning career, Dersu Uzala was a passion project for Kurosawa and ended up being produced in an important part of the filmmakers life following a failed suicide attempt and a bitterness towards his home countries industry, where his last few films had failed to make an impact and his future projects were unable to get funding, making the triumphs of this true life tale all the more noteworthy. 

Based on Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenev’s 1923 published memoir of his time trekking the often unforgiving wilderness of Sikhote-Alin in the Russian east in the early 1900’s, expeditions that saw him Arsenev meet and befriend local nomadic hunter Dersu Uzala who become a key part of the group of explorers in Arsenev’s team and a dear friend to the man, Kurisawa’s film is a picturesque 70mm shot adventure that features one of cinema’s great teachers and a true life character that was a clear inspiration for future characters in key Hollywood films. 

Often spoken about as key influence on George Lucas’s creation of Yoda in the Star Wars universe, Dersu (played with a winning smile by Maxim Munzuk) almost feels like a too good to be true human being that is more than content with helping others at the cost of his own safety or comfort and as he mentors and guides Arsenev across his various journeys across the harsh and unforgiving surrounds of the wilds they find themselves in, you can’t help but fall under the spell of a man who in many ways was the last of his kind in a world that was changing rapidly around him. 

It might not have the scope or spectacle of Seven Samurai, the emotional heft of Ikiru or the storytelling smarts of Rashomon but there’s a quiet and understated heart and soul found in Derzu Uzala and despite it being largely unheralded in today’s film community that spend their time elsewhere when it comes to praising Kurosawa’s works, this tale of friendship, life and adventure is a film unwearied by time and a lovingly crafted experience by one of the all time greats. 

Final Say – 

It may not quite match it with the best of Kurosawa’s works, which is a nigh on impossible task, but Dersu Uzala is a finely made and heartwarming true life tale that deserves to remain in the forefront of the film communities minds when the topic of Kurosawa’s influential work comes up. 

4 grass shelters out of 5  

2 responses to “Classic Review – Dersu Uzala (1975)

  1. A heartfelt review and thanks for reminding me I should watch this soon!
    I recently watched The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail and Sanshiro Sugata in an effort to continue on my journey through the Kurosawa filmography. Despite their age, they held my interest on various levels. He really was a master from an early age.

    • An incredible filmmaker mate. This originally wasn’t a film of his I knew much about or had on my radar but so glad that I did catch it.

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