Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 12/12/00 14:22:01

"Even after his death, Kurosawa makes a great samurai film."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Back in 1969, a quartet of Japanese directing legends, Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Masaki Kobayashi and Kon Ichikawa, came together to form a group they would call The Committee of Four Knights. As a group, they put pen to paper and wrote Dora-Heita, a screenplay that would collect dust until all but one of the original four had passed away. It's been worth the wait.

Japanese star, Koji Yakusho, is Dora-Heita, a samurai magistrate charged with the task of cleaning up a particularly rowdy area of feudal Japan. Alas, many have tried, many have died, and so Dora-Heita decides to attempt a different tactic - he decides to appear on the scene as a corrupt, hard drinking, heavy gambling, womanizing sop - easily influenced and nobody to fear - in order to find out from the inside just who is running the illegal activities in the town.

Believing some of his fellow samurai are passing information to criminals in the town, he decides to keep his mission totally secret, even from his elders who don't take to his indiscretions lightly. Can Dora-Heita clean up the town before the elders remove him, his competitors slay him or his ex-girlfriend finds him and henpecks him to death?

There's a whole lot of good in this film. I'm not overly familiar with the works of Ichigawa, Kobayashi or Kinoshita, at least not to a level where I could identify their filmmaking habits, but Dora-Heita is Kurosawa through and through. The lead character has all the mannerisms you might relate to a Kurosawa samurai lead if you've grown up on a diet of Yojimbo, Sanjuro and Seven Samurai, and the dialogue is consistently funny in the way that most Kurosawa dialogue traditionally was over the course of his splendid career.

Certainly the film is not without flaw, and Ichigawa's direction is very old school. The production feels small, both in scope and budget. Had the director chosen to film the project in old washed out black and white, it might have been a real blast from the past, but in Fuji color it just seems too clean and colorful - an old film in new clothes.

Koji Yakusho also finds things hard in the lead role. Of course, he has the added problem of being compared to the great old Kurosawa samurai staple, Toshiro Mifune, and who on earth could compare to that legend?

Dora-Heita is well worth tracking down, especially if you're a Kurosawa freak. Though, that might be a hard task considering the film has only been shown in Japan, and the Berlin and Sydney Film Festivals. Make it a mission.

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