Dersu Uzala (1975)

Dersu UzalaKurosawa’s Academy-Award-winning production is a testament to the value of friendship and the indomitability of the human spirit. An old hunter is hired as a guide by a party of Russian soldiers on a surveying expedition through Siberia.

Starring: Yuri Solomin, Maksim Munzuk, More

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Genre: Foreign

Format: Widescreen, More

Language: Russian, More

Subtitles: English

Awards: Academy Award Winner, More

Akira Kurosawa’s work has always been full of personal growth and transformation lessons, which in his earlier work were usually delivered by a heroic character played by the great Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa’s work changed after Red Beard in 1965, which was the last project he did with Mifune. Gone are the heroic characters of his earlier work. Instead Kurosawa brilliantly uses less direct techniques, such as the stark comparison of two different mindsets used in this film, as the vehicle for the lessons he delivers.

Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala is a rare opportunity to witness two fundamentally different ways of looking at the world, side-by-side, for the duration of an entire film. The way we look at the world is known as our paradigm. Dersu Uzala is a man of the forest, a hunter and a tracker. His paradigm could be best compared to that of any truly native human, like; a native American Indian, an Australian aborigine or an African bushmen. It’s a paradigm that is based firmly on the immutable principles that govern all life on Earth. Those principles are the laws of nature. The civilized paradigm of all the other characters is aligned with the ever shifting collection of human values and laws that disregard the laws of nature and subjugate most everything to the service of human beings alone. It is a rare opportunity to see these two mindsets side-by-side, since the civilized paradigm has done such an efficient job of assimilating all but some thousands of those that lived by the more native paradigm.

Captain Erseniev, is the leader of a party of Russian soldiers surveying the vast Russian wilderness. When they come upon Dersu Uzala the Captain quickly befriends Dersu for more than just the practical reason of needing an experienced guide. He is sensitive to what makes Dersu different and special. It is this sensitivity that places the Captain into the category of the seeker. He is open to the possibility of wonders and truths greater than that which he possesses. But he is not yet far enough along on his path to actually consider the possibility of a shift in his very civilized paradigm. By comparison, the other soldiers in the party are slow to respond to Dersu and in fact openly ridicule the manner in which he navigates through life.

Early on in the film, the party seeks shelter in an abandoned dwelling that they come upon in the forest. Dersu begins repairing the roof and damaged walls making it a fit shelter. The soldiers ridicule him for tending to that which did not belong to him. Later the soldiers ridicule intensifies when Dersu asks the Captain for some of their matches and food to leave behind in the shelter as they depart. The Captain asks him why, and Dersu explains, that they are meant for anyone that should come along needing them. The Captain considers this for a moment, quiets the soldiers, and orders that the provisions be given to Dersu to leave behind. Following this scene the Captain speaking about Dersu with another says, “Besides he has a beautiful soul, he provides for people he doesn’t even know.”

Dersu personifies the Idea that we all come from spirit. That there is no time or space separating us from one another or from anything in the universe. That we are all manifest from the same realm of Spirit. What Kurosawa wants us to see is that the difference between Dersu, and the other characters in the Movie is only in the way they look at the world. It is not that they are not connected, like Dersu perceives himself to be. It is simply that they no their civilized paradigm, which guides them to look at the world from the point of view of being separate from all things. Separate from each other, separate from that which they desire, separate from that which they need and even separate from God.

There is a scene when Dersu and Captain Erseniev are off scouting alone. Dersu begins to sense the subtle signs of the coming danger of a winter storm and tries to warn the Captain that they should turn back. The Captain doesn’t listen to Dersu or the environment around him. They press on and soon find themselves in imminent danger of freezing to death. The Captain loses consciousness in the struggle to build a shelter and it is only Dersu’s wits and wisdom that saves them both. When the Captain regains consciousness after the storm passes, he realizes that Dersu saved his life. Dersu, not thinking that it was a remarkable thing to do, simply says to the Captain, “Man is very small before the face of nature.” This scene is called Cut Grass Fast and is one of the key scenes that dramatically demonstrate the fundamental differences in the mindsets of these two characters. Dersu’s broad consciousness to Captain Erseniev’s self consciousness. Dersu’s ability to listen and be guided by the life and environment around him to Captain Erseniev’s tendency to listen only to his own guidance.

Personal growth is about understanding and then shifting the way we look at the world. Albert Einstein said the most important question that any individual can ask themselves is: Do I live in a hostile or a friendly universe? Whichever answer you choose is the experience that you will have. Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala illustrates for us this concept, that the world is how you look at it. To take that concept beyond mere words, to an understanding that exists for you at the finest level of your being, is to give yourself the power to re-create your life and experience the fulfillment of desire simply by changing the way you look at things.

Popcorn! Don’t forget the popcorn!

Remember, you are what you watch! Mark Firehammer