The Lower Depths

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The Lower Depths (Donzoko) is a Japanese feature film that was released in 1957. It was directed by the highly acclaimed Akira Kurosawa. The movie was actually originally a play written by Maxim Gorky. Gorky was a well thought of Russian author and was one of the founders of what is known as the socialist realism literary method. This method of story telling is meant to bring information to the reader about socialism and communism. Kurosawa took the story and transformed it into the Edo period of Japan, which ran from 1603 to 1868.


The story twists and twines around a few different people. The first is a landlady’s sister named Okayo. She brings an old man named Kahei to the tenement. They all start to call him “Gramps” and he is indeed mysterious. Gramps watches as a strange romance unfolds between Okayo’s sister, Osugi, the landlady, and Sutekuchi, the local thief of the area. Osugi is married to the landlord Rokubei but is sneaking around with Sutekuchi. Eventually Sutekuchi comes to not care for Osugi and wants to leave her. He becomes attracted to Osugi’s sister Okayo, who is sweeter and much nicer. Osugi gets enraged at this development and decides to convince Sutekuchi to kill her husband.

Sutekuchi does not let himself get talked into killing Rokubei and soon Rokubei learns about the affair that the thief and his wife had shared. He goes after Sutekuchi and almost talks himself into a battle with the enraged man, but Gramps, who has seen the entire situation, interferes and calms Rokubei down.

Sutekuchi works his magic on Okayo, who at first can not stand him. Eventually she starts to have feelings for him and comes to care for him. Rokubei and Osugi let their temper get the better of them and drag Okayo to their home. They continue to beat her until she is seriously injured. The people that live in the tenement rush into the home to save Okayo, and Sutekuchi becomes enraged when he hears about how injured she is because of the husband and wife. He rushes in and Rokubei ends up dead. Osugi screams at Sutekuchi that it is all his fault, but Sutekuchi fights back saying that he only did as Osugi asked him to do. Okayo hears the exchange and any feelings that she had for Sutekuchi disappear. She blames them both for everything that has happened and hands them over to the tribunal.

There are other characters who are woven into the story, like an actor who is constantly drunk and can not manage to find a job, and a samurai who has fallen from grace and is living with the poor. The movie manages to take the lives of seemingly ordinary humans and not only tell a story about the characters, but intertwine some political and realism into it as well. It takes the viewer and lets them be the fly on the wall in the lives of those who are of the lower class.

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