Dersu Uzala (Der-SOO Ooza-LAH; Russian: Дерсу Узала; 1849–1908) was a Nanai trapper and hunter. He worked as a guide for Vladimir Arsenyev who immortalized him in his 1923 book Dersu Uzala. The book was adapted into two feature films, with the version by Akira Kurosawa being the better known.
The Russian explorer Arsenyev started his expeditions to the forests of the Far East in the area of Ussuri in 1902. He described numerous species of Siberian flora and the lifestyle of native ethnic people.
When Arsenyev met the trapper Uzala he hired him as a guide for his journeys. Uzala earned the respect of Arsenyev and his team. When Uzala's eyesight and other senses began to fade with age, Arsenyev offered to take him to the city where he lived. Uzala discovered that he was not permitted to chop wood or to build a hut and fireplace in the city park, nor was he allowed to shoot within the city limits. In the spring of 1908 he asked Arsenyev for permission to return to the woods. As a parting gift, Arsenyev gave him a new rifle.
Shortly afterward, Dersu Uzala was murdered. It was speculated that his murderer wanted his new rifle.
In 1923 Arsenyev released his book Dersu Usala, which later was released under the alternate U.S. titles With Dersu the Hunter and Dersu the Trapper.
The book was adapted into two feature films. In 1961 director Agasi Babayan made the first adaption Dersu Uzala. Kasym Zhakibayev took the role of Uzala. The second film was filmed in 1975 by Akira Kurosawa. Uzala was played by Maxim Munzuk. The film won the Golden Prize and the Prix FIPRESCI at the 9th Moscow International Film Festival and the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. George Lucas has hinted that the character of Dersu Uzala inspired the Star Wars Jedi master Yoda.
In 1972 a village in Krasnoarmeysky District, Primorsky Krai, which before had the Chinese name of Laul was renamed Dersu in his honour.
A monument for Uzala and Arsenyev was erected near Arsenyev in the 1970s.
The main belt asteroid 4142 Dersu-Uzala was discovered in 1981 and named after the trapper.
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