Dersu Uzala (1975 film)

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This article is about the Kurosawa film. For an earlier film of the same title, see Dersu Uzala (1961 film).
Dersu Uzala
(Дерсу Узала)
Original film poster
Directed by Akira Kurosava
Produced by Yoichi Matsue
Nikolai Sizov
Written by Vladimir Arsenyev (book)
Akira Kurosava
Yuri Nagibin
Starring Maxim Munzuk
Yury Solomin
Music by Isaak Shvarts
Cinematography Asakazu Nakai
Yuri Gantman
Fyodor Dobronravov
Edited by Valentina Stepanova
Distributed by Mosfilm (USSR), Daiei Film (Japan), New World Pictures (USA)
Release dates
  • July 1975 (1975-07) (USSR)
  • 2 August 1975 (1975-08-02) (Japan)
Running time 144 minutes
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Budget $4,000,000 (est.)

Dersu Uzala (Russian: Дерсу Узала, Japanese: デルス·ウザーラ; alternate U.S. title: Dersu Uzala: The Hunter) is a 1975 Soviet-Japanese co-production film directed by Akira Kurosawa, his first non-Japanese-language film and his first and only 70mm film. The film won the Golden Prize and the Prix FIPRESCI at the 9th Moscow International Film Festival[1] and the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.[2] The film is based on the 1923 memoir Dersu Uzala (which took his name by the native trapper) by Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev, about his exploration of the Sikhote-Alin region of the Russian Far East over the course of multiple expeditions in the early 20th century.

The film is almost entirely shot outdoors in the Russian Far East wilderness. The film explores the theme of a native of the forests who is fully integrated into his environment, leading a style of life that will inevitably be destroyed by the advance of civilization. It is also about the growth of respect and deep friendship between two men of profoundly different backgrounds, and about the difficulty of coping with the loss of strength and ability that comes with old age.

The film sold 20.4 million tickets in the Soviet Union and made $1.2 million in the US and Canada.[3]


The film opens to a forest that is being cleared for development, and Arseniev searching for an unmarked grave. The film then flashes back to Arseniev's surveying expedition to the area of Shkotovo in Ussuri region in 1902. A topographic expedition troop, led by Captain Arseniev (Yuri Solomin), encounters a nomadic, aboriginal Nanai tribesman named Dersu Uzala (Maxim Munzuk) who agrees to guide them through the harsh frontier. Initially viewed as an uneducated, eccentric old man, Dersu earns the respect of the soldiers through his great intelligence, accurate instincts, keen powers of observation, and deep compassion. He repairs an abandoned hut and leaves provisions in a birch container so that a future traveler would survive in the wilderness. He deduces the identities and situations of people by analyzing tracks and articles left behind.

Dersu Uzala saves the lives of Captain Arseniev and one of his men not once, but twice. First, when a sudden blizzard overtakes Dersu and the Captain, Dersu shows Arseniev how to quickly build a straw hut for shelter using grass. The two men avoid freezing to death and are discovered by the rest of their comrades when the blizzard clears. When Dersu and Arseniev fall into swift moving currents while crossing a river in a raft, Dersu forces Arseniev to swim while the raft is close to shore then directs the party to cut a tree which can reach him before he drowns.

At the end of the expedition, he leaves the soldiers by the railroad tracks and returns to wilderness, only to encounter Arseniev again, years later, on another surveying expedition in 1907. However, Dersu's eyesight and other senses begin to fade with age. Dersu is no longer able to hunt, and the Siberian tiger stalking the old man comes very close until Dersu shoots at the predator. Captain Arseniev decides to take Dersu with him to the city of Khabarovsk. Dersu quickly discovers that he is not permitted to chop wood or to build a hut and fireplace in the city park, nor is he allowed to shoot within the city limits. The constables often bring Dersu back to the house, and one day he asks to leave the city and return to living in the hills. As a parting gift, Arseniev gives him a new rifle.

Some while later, Arseniev receives a telegram informing him that the body of a Goldi has been found, with no identification on him save Arseniev's calling card, and is requested to come identify the body. Arseniev finds that it is indeed Dersu. The officer who found Dersu speculates that someone may have killed Dersu to obtain the new rifle that Arseniev gave him.


In an interview conducted for the 1999 RUSCICO DVD issue of the film, co-star Yuri Solomin stated that Kurosawa had long known of Arsenyev's book and had planned to make a film version very early in his career in the late 1930s, but had dropped the project after realising that it had to be made in the region where the events had actually taken place.

In 1971, Kurosawa attempted suicide due to a bad moment of his career, questioning his creative ability after the commercial failure of Dodes'ka-den the year before, and the subsequent denial of funds for his productions by Japanese studios.[4] In 1972, Dodes'ka-den producer Yoichi Matsue and his assistant Teruyo Nogami were approached by Soviet studio Mosfilm for an adaptation of Russian novel Dersu Uzala to be directed by Kurosawa. On January 1, 1973 Matsue signed the deal on the condition that Kurosawa received full creative control over the film. Mosfilm wanted Kurosawa's frequent collaborator Toshiro Mifune to play Dersu, but Matsue convinced them otherwise as Mifune would not be attached to such a long production. Eventually Tuva actor Maxim Munzuk was cast.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "9th Moscow International Film Festival (1975)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 
  2. ^ "The 48th Academy Awards (1976) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  3. ^ Zemlianukhin, Sergei; Miroslava Segida (1996). Domashniaia sinemateka 1918–1996 (Домашняя Синематека 1918–1996) (in Russian). Moscow: Duble-D. p. 118. ISBN 5-900902-05-6. 
  4. ^ Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald; The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, p.460
  5. ^ Nogami, Teruyo (2006). Waiting on the Weather. Stone Bridge Press. pp. 272–4. ISBN 978-1-933330-09-9. 

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