Dersu Uzala (1975 film)

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Dersu Uzala
(Дерсу Узала)
Japanese release poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
  • Yoichi Matsue
  • Nikolai Sizov
Screenplay by <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
Based on Dersu Uzala
by Vladimir Arsenyev
Starring <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
Music by Isaak Shvarts
Cinematography <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
Edited by Valentina Stepanova
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Distributed by <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
  • Mosfilm (USSR)
  • Daiei Film (Japan)
Release dates
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  • July 1975 (1975-07) (USSR)
  • 2 August 1975 (1975-08-02) (Japan)
Running time
144 minutes
Country <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
  • Soviet Union
  • Japan
Language <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
  • Russian
  • Mandarin
  • Kyakhta Russian–Chinese Pidgin
Budget $4 million (est.)
Box office <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
  • 21 million tickets (USSR/EU)
  • $1.2 million (USA/Canada)

Dersu Uzala (Russian: Дерсу Узала, Japanese: デルス·ウザーラ; alternative U.S. title: Dersu Uzala: The Hunter) is a 1975 Soviet-Japanese biographical adventure drama film directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa, his only non-Japanese-language film and his only 70mm film.

The film is based on the 1923 memoir Dersu Uzala (which was named after 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. Shot almost entirely 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 capability that comes with old age.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film,[1] the Golden Prize and the Prix FIPRESCI at the 9th Moscow International Film Festival,[2] and other awards. It was also a box office hit, selling more than 21 million tickets in the Soviet Union and Europe in addition to grossing $1.2 million in the United States and Canada.


In the early 1900s, Captain Arsenyev embarks on a topographic surveying expedition in the Shkotovo region of the Ussuri territory. During the journey, he encounters Dersu Uzala, a nomadic Goldi hunter, who impresses Arsenyev with his wilderness skills. Dersu agrees to become their guide, leading the expedition through the rugged frontier.

Dersu gains the respect of the group with his experience, instincts, keen observation, and compassion. He demonstrates his resourcefulness by repairing an abandoned hut and leaving essential provisions for future travelers. As the expedition progresses, Arsenyev and Dersu venture alone to explore Lake Khanka but get caught in a blizzard. Dersu saves Arsenyev's life by building a shelter and tending to him throughout the night.

The party faces numerous hardships, including fatigue and starvation, but Dersu's wisdom and skills help them survive. Eventually, they encounter a Nanai family who offers them food, warmth, and hospitality. When the expedition nears its end, Arsenyev invites Dersu to accompany him back to Khabarovsk. However, Dersu believes his place is in the forest and declines the offer, only asking for rifle cartridges.

Five years later, Arsenyev embarks on another expedition, hoping to reunite with Dersu. Eventually, they meet again, and Dersu agrees to guide the party once more. During their journey, Arsenyev and Dersu face a dangerous situation when they become stranded on a raft heading towards treacherous rapids. Dersu sacrifices himself by pushing Arsenyev to safety before the raft is destroyed. Arsenyev and the rest of the group rescue Dersu, and their bond grows stronger.

As time passes, Dersu senses they are being stalked by a Siberian tiger, an amu. He tries to persuade the tiger to leave peacefully but is forced to shoot at it. Distraught over injuring the sacred animal, Dersu becomes troubled and realizes he can no longer provide for himself as a hunter. He appeals to Arsenyev to take him home, but Dersu struggles to adapt to city life, feeling confined and out of place. Dersu tells the family that he can no longer stay in town and must go back to the mountains. Arsenyev, though sad, realizes that Dersu needs to go, so he buys him a new high powered rifle so Dersu will have a better chance to survive.

Eventually, news reaches Arsenyev that the body of an unidentified Goldi hunter has been found, and he is asked to identify it. Arsenyev recognizes the body as Dersu's and is devastated by the loss. The official in charge speculates that Dersu may have been killed for his rifle, the new one that Arsenyev bought for him. As Dersu is buried, Arsenyev plants his walking stick beside the grave as a symbol of remembrance.



In an interview conducted for the 1999 RUSCICO DVD release, co-star 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 taiga region where the events had actually taken place. The Soviet government allowed few foreigners there. By the 1970s they allowed Kurosawa and his team, but monitored them closely during the year-long production.[3]

In 1971, Kurosawa attempted suicide during a difficult period in 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 the Soviet studio Mosfilm for an adaptation of the Russian memoir Dersu Uzala to be directed by Kurosawa. On 1 January 1973, Matsue signed the deal on the condition that Kurosawa receive full creative control. 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, Tuvan actor Maxim Munzuk was cast. Mosfilm, like Japan's Toho studio that Kurosawa usually worked with, found it impossible to keep the perfectionist director to a tight budget and schedule.[5][6]

Box office

Dersu Uzala sold 20.4 million tickets in the Soviet Union, and made $1.2 million in the United States and Canada.[7] It also sold 994,988 tickets in France,[8] 32,400 tickets in Sweden,[9] and 48,265 tickets in other EU territories since 1996,[10] adding up to 21,475,653 tickets sold in the Soviet Union and Europe.


Dersu Uzala gained generally favorable reviews among audiences and critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 75% based on 16 reviews, with an average rating of 7.70/10.[11]

See also


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  3. Conrad, David A. (2022). Akira Kurosawa and Modern Japan, 184, McFarland & Co.
  4. Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald; The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, p. 460.
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  6. Conrad, 184
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External links

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