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Schneider, J.A. (2009). Signs and Symbols in Dersu Uzala. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(1):173-180.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(1):173-180

Signs and Symbols in Dersu Uzala

John A. Schneider, Ph.D.

Dersu Uzala (1975), directed by Akira Kurosawa, the renowned Japanese filmmaker, in conjunction with Russia's Mosfilm Studios, presents a seemingly simple human drama played out in an uncharted area of Siberia. With a screenplay based on Vladimir Arseniev's 1941 nonfiction account of his experience with a nomadic trapper, Dersu Uzala was Kurosawa's second color movie and his first movie outside Japan with non-Japanese actors.

The narrating voice we hear is that of Captain Vladimir Arseniev, a Russian geographer and cartographer, as he writes a memoir of two surveying expeditions in the rugged Siberian wilderness, the Ussurian taiga. Arseniev tells the story in a series of flashbacks of his days with Dersu Uzala, a man who lived in this remote region and with whom he formed an uncommon friendship. The movie traces this friendship and its effects on both men-one a cultured, well- educated scientist and military officer, the other a mountain man living alone in the forest in one of the world's harshest environments.

The story of these two men and the complex emotional bond they form is told against a backdrop of spectacular natural beauty, with the changes of seasons in Siberia echoing the changes in their relationship. The film is a panoramic vision-like a series of beautiful photographs, each capturing the colors and textures of nature untouched by humankind. The camera focuses steadily on expansive scenes so that they appear to be still shots, moving only enough to capture the global movements of the characters. Because there are few close-ups of the characters, the human drama seems insignificant in relation to the eternal cycles of the natural world.

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