“How can you go to hell if you’re already there?”
Amidst the miseries of a flophouse in Edo-era Japan, a thief (Toshiro Mifune) falls in love with the sister (Kyoko Kagawa) of his married landlady (Isuzu Yamada), who jealously seeks revenge.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Akira Kurosawa Films
- Ensemble Cast
- Japanese Films
- Love Triangle
- Play Adaptations
The above synopsis of this adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s 1902 stage play — transported by writer/director Kurosawa to 19th century Japan — isn’t quite accurate, given that The Lower Depths is actually a classic ensemble tale, one more concerned with representing the miserable lives of its collective cast than with focusing on any particular protagonist’s personal tragedy. To that end, we bear witness to a cynical tinker (Eijiro Tono) waiting impatiently for his sick wife (Eiko Miyoshi) to die; a whiny prostitute (Akemi Negishi) lamenting her fall from grace; an alcoholic actor (Kamatari Fujiwara) complaining about the damage he’s doing to his “bitol organs”; and more.
Unfortunately, Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni’s relatively faithful screenplay — strategically limited to the confines of the sound-stage flophouse — basically consists of the characters sitting around kvetching about their lot in life, and yelling at each other. It’s difficult to keep track of who’s who, or to really care about any of their fates, given that so many weakly developed storylines are overlapping. Not even Mifune’s love triangle with Kagawa and Yamada bears much impact — we haven’t been given enough of a chance to know them as individuals. All in all, this is a surprisingly disappointing Kurosawa flick, one that I don’t consider must-see viewing except for his most steadfast fans. If you do decide to watch it, however, wait for a most enjoyable and bizarrely impromptu musical “performance” near the end — my favorite scene by far.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Isuzu Yamada as Mifune’s jealous lover
- Kazuo Yamasaki’s cinematography
No; feel free to skip this one unless you’re a diehard Kurosawa fan.