Scriptwriters: Akira Kurosawa, Yuri Nagibin
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Directors of photography: Asakazu Nakai, Yuri Gantman, Fedor Dobronravov
Production designer: Yuri Raksha
Composer: Isaak Shvarts
Cast: Yuri Solomin, Maksim Munzuk, Vladimir Kremena, Aleksandr Pyatkov, Svetlana Danilchenko, Dmitry Korshikov, Suimenkul Chokmorov
Twenty years after Akira Kurosawa was the first to put Japanese cinema on the cinematic map of the world thanks to “Rashomon”’s win at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1952, he found himself not so much in the creative crisis as in an organizational one. He was not satisfied with the conditions of production in Japan (several large monopolies dictated tough conditions to the directors), but the various proposals that he received in Europe and the United States remained unrealizzed. It was then, after Kurosawa left the filming of “Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970) and his film “Dodes'ka-den” (1970) flopped in Japan, that Soviet film director Sergey Gerasimov conveyed to him an invitation to work in the USSR. The filming of “Dersu Uzala” began two years later, and the film itself, which became an environmental rather than political project, premiered in 1975.
In an interview with Soviet film critics, Kurosawa repeatedly said that he had read the books of Vladimir Arsenyev while still working as an assistant director (in the early 1940s) and had even wanted to shoot the story of Dersu Uzala in Japan, on the island of Hokkaido, in the 1950s, but, according to him, the scale of Hokkaido's nature could not have produced such a character. Only in the Soviet Union was it possible to make a real screen adaptation of Arsenyev’s books.
“Ideally, I would like to follow the routes of Arsenyev’s expeditions,” the director told film critic Aleksandr Lipkov. “But you need so much equipment to shoot each shot! For example, in real life, the light of two fires is quite enough for our eyes to see in the dark both the faces of people at a campsite and the surrounding landscape: fallen birches, boulders, and a river bank. But in cinema, to shoot this scene, you have to bring two light trucks, a lot of lighting equipment. If we had film and equipment capable of capturing everything exactly like the human eye, then we could repeat Arsenyev's routes with our actors. But such film and such equipment, alas, do not exist. And even the numerous lightsthat we bring with us are sometimes not enough..." (Lipkov A. Akira Kurosava: Takim ia khochu videt' cheloveka [Akira Kurosawa: This is the way I want to see a man] // Ekran, 1974-1975. M.: Iskusstvo, 1976. S. 216).
And yet, Kurosawa was given the maximum opportunities for that time. “Dersu Uzala” is the only film he shot in 70 mm format, and his second color film after “Dodes'ka-den” (1970). He used three cameras at once, which filmed in different directions: a signature technique that he found with Asakazu Nakai on the "Seven Samurai" (1954). Soviet cameramen Yuri Gantman and Fedor Dobronravov worked together with Nakai. And although bulky equipment made many of the trips he dreamed of impossible, the wide format brought Kurosawa’s pictorial style to the next level. His long takes, in-depth compositions, and combination of different types of movement in the frame are linked to the travel plot as much as possible.
Movement in “Dersu Uzala”: that of a person, of groups of people and animals, of water, wind, and tongues of fire - is the basis of everything. This is cinema reduced to its primal elements. No wonder one of the most important for Kurosawa (and the film) was the shot with the main characters against the background of the moon and sun hanging in the sky at the same time. According to Lev Anninsky, nature in "Dersu Uzala" is not a background, but a cosmos, "a moral whole in which a person, as it were, finds himself anew" (Anninsky L. Obyknovennyi svet [Ordinary Light] // Iskusstvo kino. 1975. 11. S. 51.).
Despite the declared realism and shooting on location, Kurosawa readily used cinematic tricks on the set in order to achieve the desired result. In the summer, for filming in the taiga, it was necessary to illuminate the foliage with mirrors or wait for the rays of light from the sun so that the forest was not too dark on the screen or the greenery too monotonous. In addition, Kurosawa used color filters, personally broke off the remaining green branches from dry birches, painted the ground with reddish paint, and puddles with silver one (just like in “Rashomon”, he used to color the rain with ink) and arranged within the frame the foam boulders prepared for the film at the Mosfilm prop department.
The film brought the director his second Oscar for Best Foreign Film and the Golden Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 9th Moscow Film Festival (1975). In addition to the Italian David di Donatello prize for the best directing work on a foreign film, another David was awarded to the Mosfilm studio for the quality of production.