Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Japan, 1957. Toho Company. Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, based on the play by Maxim Gorky. Cinematography by Kazuo Yamasaki. Produced by Akira Kurosawa. Music by Masaru Sato. Production Design by Yoshiro Muraki. Costume Design by Yoshiko Samejima. Film Editing by Akira Kurosawa.
Kurosawa’s great admiration for the theatre and for Maxim Gorky in particular led him to fulfill a dream and bring the Russian author’s work to the screen in this excellent adaptation. Unlike Jean Renoir’s 1936 version, which took the action out of the theatrical slumhouse setting and made it more of a vehicle for Jean Gabin, Kurosawa faithfully adapts Gorky’s text except places it in mid-nineteenth century Japan. Among the characters who live the highly degrading life of a wretchedly poor slum are a thief (Toshirô Mifune) who is having an affair with the landlord’s wife and is hoping that his genuine love for her sister will take him to a better place, an iron pot maker who is indifferent to his dying wife, a gambler, an ex-samurai-swordsman, a reformed prostitute, and a drifter who comes and gives them reason to hope against hope. Relentlessly stagebound, it is nonetheless buoyed by the best performances in any of Kurosawa’s films (save maybe Mifune’s energetic Seven Samurai turn), superb dialogue and brilliant camerawork by a director who could turn even the tiniest closet into an endless opportunity for visual extravagance.