Dersu Uzala is available on DVD from Kino Video
Dersu Uzala is a profound story of mutual respect and trust that develops between an Imperial Russian Army Captain Vladimir Arseniev (Yuri Solomin) and Dersu Uzala (Maksim Munzuk), his native guide in the wilderness of Russia's Far East. Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's reflection on man vs. nature and friendship won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
The story opens in the Russian Far East village of Korfovskaya in 1910. Captain Vladimir Arseniev is returning to the place where his friend Dersu Uzala is buried. The film then flashes back to Arseniev's surveying expedition to the region in 1902, before the village was built. As the Russian soldiers cheerfully whistle through the forest, they come across a powerfully built Asian man, who gives his name as Dersu Uzala. Captain Arseniev asks Dersu to join their party as a guide. (WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW)
Dersu Uzala (Maksim Munzuk) in the snow
During these opening scenes, Akira Kurosawa frequently employs his trademark of subtly mixing noise, light and fog. The viewer feels as if he were exploring the mysterious forest alongside the Russian soldiers. One of the motifs in the film is the tiger that stalks the party of explorers. The tiger represents death, and has a conspicuous role foreshadowing Dersu's decline near the end of the film. However, in harmony with nature, Dersu does not want anyone in the party to shoot the animal, only to shoo him away, because "the forest spirit will send another tiger to avenge him".
Captain Aleksiev is quickly impressed with Dersu's marvelous knowledge of the wilderness and keen senses in detecting the presence of both men and beasts. Dersu also shows compassion for people he has never met, by insuring that every hut in the wilderness he leaves has more provisions than when he found it. The Russian soldiers in Captain Aleksiev's party are astonished when Dersu not only shoots a bottle swinging like a pendulum from the end of a rope, but scoffs at the waste of good rope. Dersu also detects the telltale signs of a Chinese hermit from Tientsin living in the forest, whom he kindly sends on his way back home.
Man's conquest of nature - a photograph from the movie set in 1907
Dersu Uzala saves the lives of Captain Aleksiev and one of his men not once, but twice. First, when a sudden blizzard overtakes Dersu and the Captain, Dersu shows Aleksiev how to quickly build a straw hut for shelter using tundra grass. The two men avoid freezing to death and are discovered by the rest of their comrades when the blizzard clears. Five years later in 1907, Dersu and Captain Arseniev again find eachother in the wilderness. When one of Aleksiev's men falls into swift moving currents while crossing a river in a raft, Dersu organizes the party to cut a log to reach the soldier before he drowns.
Dersu at Captain Arseniev's home in Khabarovsk
The real test of Dersu and Arseniev's friendship, however, comes when Dersu's eye sight and other senses begin to fade with age. Dersu is no longer able to hunt, and the Siberian tiger stalking the old man comes very close until Arseniev shoots at the predator. Captain Arseniev decides to take Dersu with him to the city of Khabarovsk. Dersu quickly discovers that he is not permitted to chop wood or to build a hut and fireplace in the city park, nor is he allowed to shoot within the city limits. The constables often bring Dersu back to the house, until one day when he does not return. Arseniev goes looking for him in the large city park and finds his old friend dead from a gunshot wound. Arseniev gives his report to the police and goes home to his wife and son, mourning his dearest friend.
Dersu Uzala director Akira Kurosawa
Lead actors Maksim Munzuk (left) and Yuri Solomin have a laugh on the set
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