Akira Kurosawa’s version of the Maxim Gorki classic isn’t a patch on Jean Renoir’s earlier reimagining. Of course, Renoir cheated with major revisions & additions while Kurosawa, even with a shift to 19th century Japan, holds closer to the text and form. Unlike the first half of HIGH AND LOW/’62 which shows just how comfortable Kurosawa could be working in a restricted set, here it feels like it’s Kurosawa and not the characters who are trapped in the no-way-out rooming house where all the personal dramas take place. (The play has never seemed so like O’Neill’s THE ICEMAN COMETH.) Much of the second act moves just outside and Kurosawa instantly recovers his spatial sense while the typically over-scaled perfs also seem to improve noticeably. Even so, the mysteries of Act Three, where resolutions & characters drift away like phantom vapors, which might well have suited a director like Mizoguchi, elude Kurosawa.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Renoir's LE BAS-FONDS / THE LOWER DEPTHS/'36 is from his richest period and has unforgettable perfs from Jean Gabin & Louis Jouvet.