3 April 2006 | yippeiokiyay
The Human Heart in the Depths
It's one of Kurosawa's most neglected masterpieces. "The Lower Depths" takes us into a ravine tenement, run by greedy, brutal landlords, and inhabited by the lowest of society's strata. All action takes place in two locations: the interior of the tenement, or the tenement grounds.
How amazing, then, is the fascination this film exerts on us, with its very modest settings. I am astonished at the creativity of the film shooting these restricted spaces, in so many varied and telling ways: space expands and contracts as is necessary to the story: the outside is either threatening or an escape, but even once outside, we see that there is no escape, and diagonals show us the human dimensions of restricted choice. Space speaks volumes in the film, accompanied by the beauty of the ensemble acting, expressing profound truths.
We find ourselves engaged in the lives of these people, and puzzled over the character of Bokuzen Hidari as the pilgrim. Is he good? If he is good, and pacifies the dispossessed by acknowledging their illusions, does it mean that self-deception is good? What wonderful ensemble acting! The director put them through long, tough rehearsals, and the result is a seamless film. No wrong notes, no overacting, just a beautiful and strange film that haunts us after we've experienced it. Such invisible, great acting, and humor and pathos.
The character of the actor is the finest piece of work by the Kurosawa veteran Kamatari Fujiwara. It is amazing that this actor appears in such diverse roles as Matahichi in "The Hidden Fortress" and as a corrupt executive in "The Bad Sleep Well". What astonishing range and depth! How brilliantly Kurosawa uses the actor's range! And, of course, we have our beloved Toshiro Mifune, laughing, kicking up his heels in devilish delight, trying to impress the girl, pouting with the landlady, listening with suspicion, then respect to the pilgrim...doing so many things so well, we are bereft when he is absent for the film's conclusion.
And what a conclusion! The harsh clappers that end the movie, the frontal shot of the gambler as he addresses us (for the only time in the film) directly, and the sudden end! Gorky...Kurosawa, Bokuzen Hidari, Toshiro Mifune, Kamatari Fujiwara and the rest....they live on in this masterpiece, for which I am very grateful.