Dersu Uzala (1975)

 


Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring:  Maksim Munzuk (Dersu Uzala), Yuri Solomin (Captain Vladimir Arseniev), Svetlana Danilchenko (Mrs. Arseniev), Dmitri Korshikov (Wowa son of Arsenjev), Suimenkul Chokmorov (Jan Bao), Vladimir Kremena (Turtwigin), Aleksandr Pyatkov (Olenin).  

Country:  Russian with English subtitles, 136 minutes.

Academy Award Winner: Best Foreign Film

 

A Russian expedition in 19th-century Siberia is saved from death by a Mongolian native guide, and a friendship develops between the group's leader and the simple, resourceful hunter. Epic drama by Akira Kurosawa, based on a true story and filmed on location in the Soviet Union. 

 

 

The year is 1910.  The place is Korfovskaia.  Russian Captain Vladimir Arseniev is looking for a grave.  Perhaps for Dersu. 

Flashback to 1902.  The Captain's assignment was to go to the Shkotovo area in the Ussurii region to make a topographic survey, mainly around Lake Khanka.  One night a Mongolian named Dersu Uzala arrives at the camp seemingly out of nowhere.   He tells the story of how he lost his family to a smallpox epidemic.  He agrees to become the group's guide to the area. 

The Captain sends most of the men and horses to Chernigovka, while he, Dersu, Olentiev, and Krushinov set out for the lake in a flatboat.  The Captain and Dersu then go ahead to the lake.  But on the way back they lose their way.  Dersu saves the Captain from the cold winter night by building a reed igloo. The two men unite with the other two men.   And then things get rougher: cold, exhaustion and hunger 

Then Dersu smells the smoke of the Udegheis frying fish and saves the Captain again.  The plan is to go to Chernigovka and then by train to Vladivostok.  Dersu does not want to go to the city.  He wants to hunt for sable furs.   

1907.  The Captain returns to once again travel across the Ussurii area.  They worked for three months in the spring and summer.  They meet up with Dersu again.  Autumn now arrives.  And then Dersu kills not an albatross, but just as bad. a tiger.  This changes Dersu as this is a bad thing to do and he believes he another tiger will come and kill him.  As winter approaches, the Captain sends some of the men with all their horses to Olga Bay. 

Dersu's eyesight is declining badly.    Now how will he live in the forest anymore?   The Captain invites Dersu to live with him in Khabarovsk.  At first Dersu is not interested, but as his fears grow, he finally accepts.

Dersu can survive in any forest but will he survive life in the city? for he is certainly like a duck out of water.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

The Ussuri River flows north into the Amur River at Khabarovsk.  The Ussuri is formed from the confluence of the Ulakhe and Arsenyevka rivers, which rise on the southwestern slopes of the Sikhote-Alin mountains.

 

1827  --  birth of Vladimir Klavdievich Arseniev (d. 1930) who lived in Vladivostok, Russia. He was an explorer, naturalist and cartographer.

1858  -- the Amur region, north of the Amur River, annexed by Russia.  In the same year, the city of Khabarovsk, near the border with Manchuria, was founded.

1860  -- the city of Vladivostok founded not far from the very most northeastern corner of Korea at the time.  Lake Khanka (partly in Russia and partly in China) is north of Vladivostok. 

by end of 1880s  --  Vladivostok had around 600 wooden houses with some 50 made of stone.

1891  --  the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad began in Vladivostok.

1902-1908 Arseniev made three expeditions, mainly on foot. He explored the region of the river Ussuri.  He was guided by native cocoats.

1904-1905  --  the Russo-Japanese War.  A Japanese squadron of warships attacked the city with over a hundred shots.

 

 

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