Dersu Uzala the Hunter
Dersu Uzala the Hunter – Pecan Street Press
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Dersu Uzala, the Hunter is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Alan Nafzger
All rights reserved.
Dersu Uzala THE HUNTER
Written by Alan Nafzger
Dersu Uzala, the Hunter
EXT FOREST – far eastern Siberia WINTER
It is 2014 and DERSU is trying to stay alive. He is an Eastern Russian and a professional hunter. He may be mixed race Nanai and Russian. His features aren’t entirely Russian. However he is a very old man, an older man with inner-strength. He is thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles and his stamina is almost gone. DERSU has gnarled hands and is swimming in the tide water of his sixth or seventh decade.
Dersu Uzala, the Hunter
The snow and the subfreezing whiteout conditions are making DERSU’s day miserable. There is a little snow falling, but the ground is completely covered with thick snow, diffused lighting from overcast clouds has caused almost all surface definition to disappear.
DERSU is being followed by an Amur tiger.
POV of the tiger. As DERSU walks through the woods he frequently stops, listens and smells, he slowly turns. He feels the tiger’s presence. When DERSU stops, the tiger stops.
POV of DERSU. His vision is seriously diminished. He is very hungry. He does manage to see a sika deer.
POV of the tiger. Despite the tiger, DERSU manages to fire a shot but it only frightens the deer. Firing the weapon seems to startle the tiger; the camera careens back one foot and stops. DERSU may be starving to death.
DERSU walks very fast through the snow, muttering a very old Russian song.
In the islands, the hunter
Roams all day long.
But no luck for him
And he curses himself
What’s he going to do
How is he to serve
He cannot be cheerful
So what he’s try to aim better
So the hunter goes to warmer waters
Where the fish are frolicking
in the beautiful weather
There on the shore
DERSU smells smoke and then scans the horizon for it. He senses the direction and panics. He runs through the thick snow. The tiger’s chase instincts are triggered. It is a race.
DERSU drops and abandons the furs that he has collected.
As the chase develops, DERSU stops and fires his rifle at the cat. However, the cat ducks into cover of the forest. As DERSU begins to run again, the tiger emerges and follows.
DERSU now sees a conservationist’s winter cabin. It is maintained by BORIS ZARUBIN of the Wildlife and Hunting Department. Smoke is drifting out of the chimney. DERSU fumbles through his pocket and looks to take something out. DERSU runs harder but he is almost exhausted. The tiger is only yards away and it is ready to make the kill.
A hunting knife in his hand, DERSU falls exhausted into the snow. He rolls, knife in hand; he is ready to fight the tiger. Suddenly the conservationists steps out of the cabin and fires a shot into the air. The tiger stops dead in his tracks and then retreats.
Five minutes later…
INT. conservationist’s winter cabin
DERSU is at the table rapidly eating bread and hot soup. There is a fire. There is a business card on the table. It is a very old and worn card of a politburo member, Viktor DEMICHEV. The words, “Please extend every courtesy to my very good friend, Dersu.”
How did you know a politburo member?
DERSU doesn’t understand the question. ZARUBIN holds up the card.
Viktor was here many years ago.
DERSU does not stop eating. He is famished.
I saved his life.
It was a tiger?
No, it was wolves.
You know there isn’t a politburo any more. Right?
Thank you for not killing the tiger.
We try not to shot tigers but I must admit I almost had to. He was almost on you.
ZARUBIN looks into a dark corner of the room. There is a man. He is a reporter, ANTON DOROKHOV. The reporter leans forward; his face is now lit by the laptop computer that he is working with. He is a Moscow reporter writing about the conservation efforts and tigers.
What’s the name on the card?
The reporter’s eyes become enlarged.
This is Anton Dorokhov he is a reporter here doing a story on the tigers and the conservation efforts.
He is still alive. The last of the Brezhnev gang. It is impossible to speak with him. I’ve tried. What a story! It is rumoured that he knows were the bodies are buried, so to speak. Perhaps literally. He will not answer the door.
Did you phone?
Well, yes. There was a signal, two rings hang up and then call back. And he answered. Well, I told him who I was and he hung up. They changed the code.
He never leaves?
He used to play chess at tables outside his apartment and go for walks. But no one has seen him in 10 years. Daughter brings him food. She won’t let me talk to him.
The conservationist nods to DERSU, who is feverously still eating.
Take him with you.
Thank you. I will go.
The men think DERSU means Moscow. But he takes up his gun and is about to leave the cabin. But the men stop him.
Why don’t to go with me to see Demichev?
I don’t know who that is?
I can’t see. My eyes will not work in the city.
I will be run over by a wagon.
We won’t let anything happen to you.
I am a hunter.
Come on. You are not happy here in the winter. Come and visit with Viktor and in the spring you can come back here.
What kind of food is there in the city? I will take my gun.
How about if I keep it here for you?
Several days later…
INT. TRAIN CAR
DERSU sits hours (days) at the window looking out and watching Russia pass by. There are furs stacked up near DERSU.
EXT. MOSCOW TRAIN STATION
DERSU and the reporter exit a first class train car. DERSU takes in Moscow. He is awed by the hustle and the bustle of the crowds and the noise. As they walk to the taxi cabs out front, DERSU studies it all.
EXT. HOUSE ON THE EMBANKMENT
A taxi arrives with DERSU and DOROKHOV.
INT. HALLWAY OF THE HOUSE ON THE EMBANKMENT
DERSU and DOROKHOV reach the door of the apartment. DOROKHOV knocks and we hear a rustling about but there isn’t an answer.
Hand me your card again.
So he will open the door.
DERSU feels this is silly.
Open the door Viktor, it is your friend DERSU. It is cold out and I would like to have some soup.
The door opens slightly; DEMICHEV is afraid it is a trick by reporters, or even worse, historians. But then the door is opened all the way.
Viktor DEMICHEV is a man much older than DERSU. Fringe of grey-white hair around balding, mottled scalp. Wizened face. Back slightly hunched. Thick, groomed moustache, wide forehead with numerous lines. Resigned. Contorted arthritic hands.
When he sees his old friend DERSU, we learn that he is surprisingly agile. He is elated to see his friend and gives him a big hug. The reporter is ignored.
DERSU hands him the card.
Oh I’ve not seen one of these for years.
DEMICHEV examines the other side and smiles. He remembers it all very well.
DEMICHEV flashes back the wolves who almost killed him.
DEMICHEV gives DERSU the card back to keep. DERSU and DEMICHEV walk into the apartment and shut the door.
The reporter must knock on the door. DEMICHEV reluctantly lets him in, but he was hoping the man would go away.
Dersu Uzala (Russian: Дерсу Узала, Japanese: デルス·ウザーラ, romanized: Derusu Uzāra; alternative U.S. title: Dersu Uzala: The Hunter) is a 1975 Soviet-Japanese film directed 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 strength and ability that comes with old age.
The film won the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, the Golden Prize and the Prix FIPRESCI at the 9th Moscow International Film Festival and other awards. It sold 20.4 million tickets in the Soviet Union and made $1.2 million in the US and Canada.
In a forest that is being cleared for development, Arsenyev is searching for an unmarked grave of a friend he says he buried 3 years ago. The film then flashes back to Arsenyev’s surveying expedition to the area of Shkotovo in Ussuri region in 1902. A topographic expedition troop, led by Captain Arsenyev (Yury Solomin), encounters a nomadic Goldi hunter named Dersu Uzala (Maxim Munzuk) who agrees to guide them through the harsh frontier. Initially viewed as an uneducated, eccentric old man, Dersu earns the respect of the soldiers through his great experience, accurate instincts, keen powers of observation, and deep compassion. He repairs an abandoned hut and leaves provisions in a birch container so that a future traveler would survive in the wilderness. He deduces the identities and situations of people by analyzing tracks and articles left behind.
Dersu Uzala saves the life of Captain Arsenyev for the first time when the two are lost on a frozen lake and a sudden blizzard overtakes them. Dersu shows Arsenyev how to quickly build a straw hut for shelter using grass and then, when Arsenyev collapses due to exhaustion, Dersu pulls him into the shelter. The two men avoid freezing to death and are discovered by the rest of their comrades when the blizzard clears. The expedition then, struggling to survive the frozen tundra, encounter a Nani family who invite them into their home, providing the men much needed food, and warmth. At this point Dersu asks where Arsenyev will go next to which Arsenyev tells him “back to the city” and invites Dersu to come with him. Dersu tells him that his place is in the forest and that tomorrow he will go on his way. The next day he leaves the soldiers by the railroad tracks and returns to wilderness.
Five years later in 1907, Arsenyev is on another expedition in Ussuri. He has been mapping mountain ranges for months, all the time holding onto hope that he will run into his old friend Dersu. One night, when at camp, one of his men says they ran into an old Hunter in the forest who was asking about their unit. Instantly hopeful, Arsenyev demands to know where he saw the man and rushes into the forest filled with hope of seeing his old friend. Searching the forest for a few minutes he sees Dersu walking away further into the forest. Calling for him he is overcome with joy as Dersu yells back and then men run to each other. The men embrace and Arsenyev brings Dersu back to camp with him where the two sit by a fire and talk about their time apart. Dersu takes up the job of expedition guide again. The expedition breaks up as Arsenyev, Dersu, and a few men cross a large river by raft, and the rest continue on to try to find a ford to cross with the horses. Arsenyev and Dersu get caught on the raft as the others embark and are quickly rushed downstream. Dersu saves Arsenyev’s life again by pushing him off the raft and telling him to swim toward shore. Dersu is trapped on the raft as conditions on the river become treacherous. Moments before Dersu and the raft crash into the rapids, Dersu jumps onto a branch in the middle of the river. He then directs the party to cut a tree which can reach him before he drowns. Some time passes and the men seem to be in good spirits. They take several pictures with Dersu and all seems to be going well. Arsenyev writes in his journal that some of his fondest memories of Dersu occurred during the beginning of that autumn.
A short time later, the expedition party is trekking through the forest when Dersu realizes they are being stalked by a Siberian tiger. Dersu tries in vain to scare the Siberian tiger away telling him that the soldiers will shoot him with their guns. The tiger continues getting closer to Dersu and Arsenyev until Dersu is forced to shoot the tiger. Dersu is instantly distraught over shooting a tiger, stating that Kanga, who is a forest spirit that his people worship, will be unhappy and will send another tiger for him. Dersu becomes more and more irritable, yelling at members of the party and distancing himself from Arsenyev. Dersu’s eyesight and other senses begin to fade with age until he is no longer able to hunt thus not being able to live alone in the forest.
Captain Arsenyev decides to take Dersu with him to the city of Khabarovsk. Dersu quickly discovers that he is not permitted to chop wood or to build a hut and fireplace in the city park, nor is he allowed to shoot within the city limits. Despite his love for Arsenyev and Arsenyev’s family, Dersu realizes that his place is not in the city and asks Arsenyev if he can return to living in the hills. As a parting gift, Arsenyev gives him a new rifle.
Some while later, Arsenyev receives a telegram informing him that the body of a Goldi has been found, with no identification on him save Arsenyev’s calling card, and is requested to come identify the body. Arsenyev finds that it is indeed Dersu. The officer who found Dersu speculates that someone may have killed Dersu to obtain the new rifle that Arsenyev gave him. As the gravediggers finish their work, Arsenyev finds Dersu’s walking stick nearby, and plants it in the ground beside the grave.
Yury Solomin as Vladimir Arsenyev
Maxim Munzuk as Dersu Uzala
Vladimir Kremena as Turtygin
Alexander Pyatkov as Olenev
Svetlana Danilchenko as Anna
Suimenkul Chokmorov as Chzhan Bao
In an interview conducted for the 1999 RUSCICO DVD issue of the film, co-star Yuri 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 region where the events had actually taken place.
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. 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 over the film. 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 Tuva actor Maxim Munzuk was cast.