The loneliness of Dersu Uzala

By Rajmohan Sudhakar

An old Akira Kurosawa interview on YouTube brought back flashes of Dersu Uzala, a movie I watched when I was a student. The Japanese master’s classic from 1975 is his only international production and works in 70mm.

As we rethink our relationship with nature while battling theories about the origin of coronaviruses, Kurosawa’s epic drama explains our bizarre isolation in a multitude.

Derzu Uzala can only exist in the Siberian taiga, his home. In town, he is disoriented and exposed to vices.

With covid-19, we realize how far we have strayed from nature – to which we once belonged as Dersu – and perhaps why we now feel so lonely.

Nature is most striking through the frames of Kurosawa, and Dersu the protagonist a GPS, if you will, for Soviet-Russian topographers. A wandering Nanai hunter / trapper, Dersu has firsthand knowledge of the taiga, however, no idea of ​​his age. Yoda from Star Wars is said to be based on Dersu.

The film is a study for climatologists / activists and those trapped by the dictates of big tech amid the uncertainties triggered by the pandemic.

When Kurosawa suffered a mid-career blackout, he threw himself into nature’s lap and filmed Dersu Uzala at the invitation of the Soviets.

The film captures the socio-cultural degeneration of man, so far removed from nature, as opposed to the wisdom of a lonely Siberian nomad. There is no doubt that this drift has cost us tremendously, now unable to get the covid-19 under control, booster shots and everything.

In the film, on a cold and strange night, the investigative team fell asleep at the camp. At first, the company mistakes Dersu for a bear, but soon a short, stocky figure appears out of the darkness, shouting “please don’t shoot.”

At first, the soldiers don’t take Dersu seriously – mocking his eccentricities – although they are soon all ears.

Nature has its own act in some films – just like Alexander Iñárritu seems inspired in The Revenant.

Dersu Uzala has so many layers and you wonder why today’s filmmakers miss the point. Dersu’s harmony with nature surpasses what modernity has achieved with its scientists, philosophers, and treatises combined – groping in the dark while dislodging indigenous peoples, regardless of tradition or homeland.

Dersu – instead – dances with nature, as he guides the Lost Soldier. He takes a liking to “Kapitan”, the captain who keeps a diary. The newspaper is the script for the film. ‘Kapitan’ meets Dersu on several expeditions. He even takes Dersu to town. For Dersu, the city is absurd, unable to make sense of it, “why do men live in boxes, Kapitan?” he’s asking himself.

Dersu is in constant conversation with nature – warning the approaching tigers and berating the embers for too crackling. “The bad guys,” he said, “make too much noise. Of course, these are all men for Dersu; birds, bees, tigers and embers. This is why he is never alone in solitude. We, for our part, far from our primordial association with nature, cornered by Sars-CoV-2, now seem collectively isolated.

The 70mm scale of the fall colors of the taiga and the majesty of nature that minimizes man – pales today’s cinema which claims “so advanced” technology.

In a captivating setting, the sun and the moon unite to reveal a bewitching ethereal landscape. Dersu and the Captain are lost and trapped above a frozen lake. Soon it will be nightfall. “Losing our way in bad weather will kill us, Kapitan,” says Dersu.

He told the captain to cut the grass, “Quick, Kapitan, quick.

An icy wind is picking up. Kurosawa creates a wacky scene as Dersu and the exhausted captain struggle through the blizzard to cut the grass. The captain fainted.

The next morning, Dersu wakes up the captain in a makeshift grass hut. He thanks Dersu for saving his life.

The moral is that we have drifted enough. Or why would the ingenuity of a forest nomad outweigh military might? It is appalling. After all, human triumphalism must take a back seat.

Dersu Uzala by Maxim Munzuk and captain by Yuri Solomin Vladimir Arseniev paint the definitive contrast of East and West at the turn of the 20th century, which we see today layered in The Grand Budapest Hotel of Wes anderson. The failing sight of Dersu, the tiger that continues to appear in his dream, and the captain’s son’s admiration for Dersu make for some interesting subplots.

Years later, on his way home from visiting the captain, Dersu is killed by thieves in the city, for his rifle. Tragic.

Kurosawa’s iconic work is worth revisiting after covid, a disease that has a lot to do with our strained relationship with nature, and its abundance that we plan to plunder further.

About Norma Wade

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