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Drunken Angel (1948)


Yeah that's him! Effin young! It's like seeing Deerhunter and saying "no, that can't be them"
Yeah that's him! Look how young he is! It's like seeing Deerhunter and saying "no, that can't be them."

Genre: Drama Film Noir (Japan)

Starring: Takashi Shimura (IkiruThe Quiet Duel), Toshirô Mifune (Seven SamuraiMidway)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (High and LowThe Bad Sleep Well)

Overview: In a Japanese slum, an aging alcoholic doctor attempts to treat a brutish, unwilling Yakuza patient with tuberculosis.

Martyrdom is out of style. - Dr. Sanada

Here it is kiddies, Kurosawa's first truly successful film, the film that allowed him to 'discover himself', the first film that starred The Emperor's favourite sidekick, Toshirô Mifune, and apparently the first film where he did not have governmental interference. And to top it all off, Film Noir. Thank you, Akira.

I said in my last review that Kurosawa's potential was on its way to surfacing and I somewhat suspected that he made simple films during the war years and its following American Occupation because he didn't need a burgeoning career snuffed out in a blacklisted moment, but I never thought the potential would come so quickly to fruition.

What makes Drunken Angel such a strong film, besides the powerhouse performances of Kurosawan staples Mifune and Shimura, is the imagery that begins by placing our characters firmly in the smashed setting of a post-war Japanese slum with a drainage pond that is used as a garbage dump. Kurosawa uses this fetid swamp to symbolize the disease that is infecting Matsunaga (Mifune) as well as the Yakuza-run black-market neighbourhood they all live in.

Simply put the story is about two men. The first is our good hearted doctor Sanada. He doesn't live among the slums simply because he's a grand humanitarian... a doctor without a license has limited options, not to mention feeding an alcoholic crutch is far simpler among black marketeers. Then we have a Yakuza hood who finds out he's got tuberculosis but would rather live it up with his smoking, drinking and gambling vices until all hours rather than taking care of himself. Matsunaga hates the doctor for his holier-than-thou attitude whereas Sanada cares little for this denizen of the slums who earns on the backs of those less fortunate. 

The film is filled with frequent scenes where the two men are pitted in a battle of wills that often turns physical, and yes, even Japanese Film Noir has its share of slapping! Some of my favourite scenes are those in the American-style nightclub, where Brylcreemed Yakuza suits dance with Americanized Japanese women in what looks like a ritzy USO, images I simply can't imagine being without heavy directorial comment about the Occupation.

Though there was one subplot that was left all too unresolved, Drunken Angel is solid Film Noir and great Kurosawa that truly marks the beginnings of this auteur's career. 


Overall Rating: 74% (Tipsy Translation, Heavenly Story)

Toshirô Mifune, at a young and dapper 28. So young in fact, that I couldn't believe I was actually seeing this most famous of on-screen samurai he would one day become, looking so thin and clean shaven. I stumbled upon an excerpt from The Emperor's autobiography, Something Like An Autobiography, about the first time he met Toshirô:

I opened the door and stopped dead in amazement.

A young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy. lt was as frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to break loose. I stood transfixed. But it turned out that this young man was not really in a rage, but had drawn "anger" as the emotion he had to express in his screen test. He was acting. When he finished his performance, he regained his chair with an exhausted demeanor, flopped down and began to glare menacingly at the judges.

Needless to say I'm going to order the book from my local Indie place and catch up to my viewings. 

Between Drunken Angel and the International fame he received with Rashomon, The Emperor would make three more films, and I suspect that I've hit an unexplored pocket of greatness that certainly needs to be brought out into the light.

This film was so entertaining in fact, that I would watch it again - and soon - as long as it was with a subtitled version that was free of the gobbledygook I had to interpret, hence causing my overall rating to suffer. That aspect was truly a cryin' shame to endure.

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