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The Lower Depths
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Akira Kurosawa
Sojiro Motoki
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Screenplay:
Akira Kurosawa
Hideo Oguni
Maxim Gorky
Starring Toshirō Mifune
Isuzu Yamada
Kyôko Kagawa
Ganjiro Nakamura
Minoru Chiaki
Bokuzen Hidari
Music by Masaru Satô
Cinematography Kazuo Yamasaki
Editing by Akira Kurosawa
Distributed by Toho
Release date(s) 1957
Running time 125 minutes (US Version)
Country Japan
Language Japanese

The Lower Depths (どん底 Donzoko ?) is a 1957 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa, based on the play of the same name by Maxim Gorky. The film's setting was changed to Edo-period Japan.




In a run-down Edo tenement, an elderly man (Rokubei) and his bitter wife (Osugi) rent out rooms and beds to the poor. The tenants are gamblers, prostitutes, petty thieves and drunk layabouts, all struggling to survive. The landlady’s younger sister (Okayo) who helps the landlords with the maintenance of the place, brings in an old man (Kahei) and rents him a bed. Kahei quickly assumes the role of the mediator and grandfatherly figure, though there is an air of mysteriousness about him and some of the tenants suspect his past is not unblemished.

Sutekuchi, the thief and self-appointed tenement leader, is having an affair with Osugi the landlady, though he is gradually shifting his attention to her younger and sweet-tempered sister, Okayo. Okayo thinks little of him, however, which frustrates Sutekuchi and sours his relationship with Osugi. Jealous and vengeful, Osugi conspires to seduce Sutekuchi to murder her husband so she can turn him over to the authorities. Sutekuchi sees through her seduction and refuses to take any part in the murder. The husband discovers the affair, gets into a fight with Sutekuchi, and is saved only through Kahei’s intervention.

Slowly, Okayo begins to see the good in Sutekuchi and warms up to his advances. Rokubei and Osugi beat Okayo, prompting the tenants to break into the landlords’ house to save her. Sutekuchi is enraged to learn about the way Okayo was treated, and in the ensuing chaos, Rokubei is accidentally killed. Osugi blames Sutekuchi for the killing of her husband. Rather than defend himself, the enraged Sutekuchi claims that she had conspired with him to do it. Okayo now believes that the two of them have used her to provide an excuse for killing Osugi’s husband. She will have nothing to do with Sutekuchi. Kahei, whose testimony could potentially have cleared Sutekuchi, runs away for fear he would have to appear in court to testify (adding substance to the suspicions that he had something to hide). Sutekuchi and Osugi are arrested.

Other subplots, some of a comic nature, involve the occupants of the tenement: an aging actor who has lost his ability to memorize lines; a craftsman who is indifferent to the impending death of his ailing wife, yet when she finally dies he becomes a broken man; a destitute who claims to be descended from a samurai family, only to have this claim refuted; and a group of partying drunks who seem to rejoice in the face of misfortune.

Comparison with Renoir's version

another version of original Japanese movie poster made by Toho Company

Unlike Jean Renoir’s version, Kurosawa’s film follows Gorky’s play faithfully, making this film a much darker one and perforce eliminating Renoir’s happy ending. Furthermore, Kurosawa does not allow the film to sink into despair, inasmuch as the sheer vitality of the comic relief nearly overshadows the main plot.

External links



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