Dora-Heita – DVD Review


Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Kon Ichikawa

Cast:
Kôji Yakusho … Dora-Heita
Yûko Asano … Kosei
Bunta Sugawara … Nadahachi
Ryudo Uzaki … Giyoro Senba
Tsurutaro Kataoka … Hanzo Yasukawa
Renji Ishibashi … Saibei


The Movie:

Imagine a scenario where Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas announced they were all going to write a script together. Then, they go ahead and finish the screenplay, but in the interim Coppola goes ahead and makes a film on his own, but it fails at the box office and ends up dooming the original project as well. Then, years later Spielberg goes ahead and takes the screenplay, directing it himself. This is the situation with the film Dora-Heita, a samurai film written by four of the greatest Japanese directors to ever live, Kon Ichikawa (Fires on the Plain), Keisuke Kinoshita (Carmen Comes Home, Japan’s 1st Color film), Masaki Kobayashi (Samurai Rebellion), and Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo). Unfortunately, before this movie was made, the failure of Kurosawa’s Dô desu ka den killed the chances of Dora-Heita being made. That is, until 2000, when the last remaining member of the troupe, Kon Ichikawa, decided to make this dream of a film a reality.

The film’s title refers the to film’s main character, Dora-Heita (Kôji Yakusho), a mischievous samurai retainer sent to the most wicked province in the land to be its magistrate. In Japanese, Dora means “Alley Cat”, and to that this man lives up to his name, boozing it up every night and partying the whole day long, ruining his reputation and making enemies amongst both the Samurai elite of the area as well as the local Yakuza bosses. In true Kurosawa fashion though, Dora-Heita’s act is all a ruse, as he uses his cunning to try and to clean up the province from the ground up, ending up in hilarious situations and awesome swordfights.

I love the new trend that AnimEigo has started to use with its DVD warnings, putting clever little messages in them. For example, on Dora-Heita’s back cover it warns about the movie containing “Violence, Debauchery, and Masterful Direction”, and to its credit, it’s able to deliver. The movie is a well paced, light Samurai film with one major action sequence and a ton of quirky characters. Kon Ichikawa’s masterpieces, Fires on the Plain and The Burmese Harp, both display the man’s very human touch when working amongst serious drama and tragedy, but here he manages deft comedy making this film highly entertaining, even if there isn’t a high quotient of action.

As the film’s main character, Kôji Yakusho is awesome and charismatic as ever. Some may recognize the actor from his participation in award winning films such as Babel and Memoirs of a Geisha, but neither of those films were able to utilize the actor the way Dora-Heita does. Yakusho seems to have an unending supply of charm, making the character buffoonish, but very likable. Amazingly, he looks just as adept in the film’s action sequences and fight-scenes and is able to make the transition so seamless that you believe in him totally whether he’s drunk and dancing or cutting a man down.

Also wonderful is Bunta Sugawara as the film’s most powerful Yakuza boss, Nadahachi. Sugawara has made a career out of playing Japanese criminals and tough guys and in this film he’s no different as he’s the most clever and cunning of the town’s bosses. All of his scenes with Yakusho are full of life and energy, as you can feel the two adversaries trying to outwit and then out muscle each other.

While it would be easy to express disappointment in the film’s major fight scene, a 1 on 30 showdown between Dora-Heita and a room full of gangsters, taken in context, the scene is still very well staged. The sequence is bloodless, but not lifeless as it is very reminiscent with earlier Samurai epics such as Seven Samurai and the first few Zatoichi entries. Also, the rest of the film manages to keep such a light tone, that a huge bloody battle in the course of the film’s climax may actually ring false.

With many funny performances and a well constructed and breezy story, Dora-Heita is an absolute delight. The characters are memorable and the direction superb, managing to keep its violence low, but not to a point where you miss it. This is a terrific throwback to an age when Japanese movies like Sanjuro and The Hidden Fortress took their time, but never felt slow, and kept us laughing as much as they thrilled us.


The DVD:

The Video
The disc has a pretty decent print, with the movie looking as good as it ever has. The colors are not saturated and each frame is quite clear. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and also sounds fine. Honestly, the worst thing about the movie is its score, but really you get used to it, and it never overpowers the movie’s dialogue at any point.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers, Program Notes, Picture Gallery

Trailers – You get a handful of trailers on the disc, two for this movie, as well as the classic Samurai Assassin, the awesome Shogun Assassin, and a new release of a Toshiro Mifune movie entitled Shinsengumi.

Program Notes

Picture Gallery

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Dora-Heita
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

9
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

3
REPLAY VALUE

9
OVERALL
7.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

The Inside Pulse
This is a tremendous movie, and a great addition to the collection of any fan of Samurai films. The disc is very light on extras, but the movie is well worth the purchase price.