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November 3, 2010

Movie Review: Dora-Heita

Guest reviewer and Cinema Head Cheese Asian cult film afficianado Dineh Tom takes a look at AnimEigo's Dora-Heita.

I remember the Golden Age of Japanese cinema, or at least my past soul does remember them, ha! There was always something about the chambara films within that time that gave me the chills. Maybe it was way a samurai lived a life in solidarity when the times were changing and he had no one to serve. Or, it could be the way a samurai can be so quiet and gentle, yet turn into a slashing weapon of death when he was given the right circumstances! So, when I was allowed to watch “Dora-Heita,” the film directed by Kon Ichikawa and produced in the year 2000, my anticipation was very high.


The story goes that the famous Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Kon Ichikawa, and Masaki Kobayashi wrote the film. They joined forces to create a production company that would allow them to make their own stories and possibly enliven their country’s motion pictures. After all these years, Kon Ichikawa, the last director remaining out of the four, finally made the piece.

“Dora-Heita” has an opening scene that reveals this film’s exact nature. We are given information that Koheita Mochizuki (Koji Yakusho) has been called in to be the new magistrate of the most corrupt town in Japan. That seems extremely odd because we learn Koheita is known as drinking, lazy, undisciplined, samurai. In fact, that’s why he is known as “Dora-Heita,” or “Alley Cat.” What we begin to understand is Koheita blends himself in with the environment of the corrupt in order to clean the town. Like an undercover agent in today’s stories, he learns more about the untrusting officials and the city’s crumbling society. To make matters more intriguing, Koheita’s love from the past (Yuko Asano) shows up to keep tabs on his irrational behavior.

The story of how this film was created heightened my expectations to triple espresso caffeinated highs, but the film was too comedic for my tastes. I do enjoy a little comedy now and then, but this film had too much for me. That’s exactly how it was meant to be though, so if you do love comedy and enjoy a technically well-made film, “Dora-Heita” is for you. Each camera shot, angle, focus, and sound, is meticulously crafted. Kon Ichikawa’s ability to direct a film like he would have did in the 1960’s is quite ridiculously amazing. Koji Yakusho’s talent has impressed me in films before, but it seems another actor could have been more suitable.

In terms of the DVD, AnimEigo has done a beautiful job in keeping true to sharing the customs and culture of Japan. The subtitles are helpful because they are color coded when two characters talk, and the translation is well suited to give the viewer a feel of words that may a little harder to translate into English. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen and the color of the picture is correct. Extra features include an Image Gallery, “Dora-Heita” teasers, and trailers to other films by AnimEigo.

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