[Buddha-l] Donzoko

Michael Paris parisjm2004 at yahoo.com
Sun Jan 20 09:22:17 MST 2008

Replies below.

I've quoted the original message in full to include Joanna's summary of
the film. Apologies in advance for possibly excessive length. 


--- jkirk <jkirk at spro.net> wrote:

> From: Kirkpatrick [jkirk at spro.net] 
> On a tangent from the western Buddhism thread, I just want to say
that I watched Akira Kurosawa's film version last night of Maxim
Gorky's _The Lower
Depths_ (_Donzoko_).  Have to admit I've never seen the Gorky play nor
read it. Kurosawa says that he made a lot of changes in adapting the
play to his purposes. Since I've not seen nor read the play, I can't
address the changes. But Kurosawa's version is a study in both samsara
and compassion, and to my mind is a very Buddhistic film. 

    I'd agree only to a degree that it's Buddhistic. One could argue
the film is a much Christian. The character of the Buddhist priest was
a Christian priest in the play. 

    Regarding changes, the commentator stated Kurosawa took the dialog
from the almost verbatim. The movie is almost a filmed version of the

> An old man pilgrim monk arrives amidst the seedy denizens of a lower
depths somewhere in Japan, at the bottom of a refuse pit (we're talking
late Edo period here), and asks to stay there for a while. "Gramps" as
they call him is given a bunk that was empty, and winds up gently
advising various of his shared-quarters neighbors during their wild
passions and disputes with one another. At the end, after he has moved
on, someone recalls his compassion. Mostly they accuse him of talking
comfortable lies, while "they" perceive the truth of reality, and then
get drunk. It's a retooled version of the film and the subtitles are in
contemporary US English slang, a bit grating-- but then I never saw the
original with original subtitles, that may not have been any better. 

    The priest did offer comfort (e.g., to a dying woman, saying the
nembutsu in hushed tones over her corpse) and good advice. He tried -
with very mixed results - to help an alcoholic. His advice was
common-sense, not pious nor condescending. 

On the other hand, all the characters - both the residents of the
flop-house and the landlord's family - were not in the least interested
in seeing beyond their situations. They _could_ have changed, at least
from our point of view. 

In that sense I can agree there was a Buddhist element in the film, as
we do have a choice whether to stay in samsara or seek release. We can
consider Buddhism a pack of lies at worst, a false hope at best, or
give it a try. 

The characters did perceive the truth of their reality to various
degrees, the cold, cynical gambler most of all. His relationship with
the priest raises doubts just who the latter really is - an itinerant
religious or someone just like the other characters,  pretending to be
otherwise. Perhaps the priest is using piety as his escape from harsh

> A beautiful filmic exposition of delusion, hatred, and desire and how
the social lowest of the low are so attached to their existential
situation that they cannot imagine getting out of it, even though some
of them dream of it. The pilgrim monk is the only one who has ever been
out of the pit.

Yes. The characters would have to _completely_ change their attitudes
to deal with their despair. Not so easy.

>From a Buddhist point of view, once one is aware of samsara, then one
needs to decide whether to do something about it (difficult) or not
(difficult in a different way). The gambler saw the truth and made his

At least the priest talks like he's been out of the pit; he certainly
seems to be wise. The truth - ?

> Has anyone on the list seen this film, and/or the Gorky play? Jean
Renoir filmed it in France in 1931, and Kurosawa's dates from 1957.
> Joanna K.

Got the K version from Netflix, the Criterion edition with extras,
including a commentary track of limited usefulness.

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