Dersu Usala

The Hunter

Directed by Akira Kurosawa (1975)

Available as a DVD from Artificial Eye

This is a beautiful film made by Akira Kurosawa and taken from the book of V K Arseniev, a Russian captain who undertook a series of expeditions into the Siberian taiga to map the geology of this unexplored region. On one of these, he encounters Dersu, a Goldi hunter, and they share many experiences which result in a profound and enduring friendship.

Dersu understands how to live and survive in the wild, respecting the other ‘ fellows’, as he calls the other entities and beings of all species which coexist in its fragile balance, and he teaches the Russians many lessons with his simplicity and generosity of spirit, as well as his ingenuity. There are memorable scenes in the film, with the extraordinary landscape itself playing a central role. One of the most touching for me was the way in which Dersu saves Arseniev and himself when they become lost on a frozen lake. Dersu manages to sustain a rhythm of effort which the captain cannot, working without flagging until both of them are safe.

In the taiga death is never far, and constant alertness and harmony with the surroundings is critical for survival. The dignity and humanity of both Dersu and Arseniev is striking too.

Susan Lacroix