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Quiet Duel, The (1949)


Toshiro tries his sword-play in the operating theater
Toshiro tries his sword-play in the operating theater

Genre: Drama (Japan)

Starring: Toshirô Mifune (Samurai RebellionYojimbo), Noriko Sengoku (Stray DogScandal)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (Red BeardSanjuro)

Overview: When a doctor accidentally contracts Syphilis from a patient during an operation, he must make a difficult decision, forsaking his fiancée for her happiness or making her wait the years it would take for him to be cured.

We open in a war-time operating theatre. While Dr. Kyoji Fujisaki performs a life-saving operation, a slip of the knife results in our good doctor contracting an illness so terrible that even with early proper treatment, could take years to cure. The dilemma faced by our good doctor is compounded by the fact that he could very easily spread this insanity-inducing illness to his fiancée. Sub-plots include the risk of being discovered, since syphilis is such a shameful disease.

Sadly, that's about all The Quiet Duel has to it. Save for the opening, an important heart-wrenching monologue and the climax, The Quiet Duel has none of the intensity that Kurosawa is famous for. The only grand panoramas one sees are those of a wrought iron fence outside the hospital window marking the passage of seasons, the greatest risks are personal, and the character development lies almost exclusively in the doctor and his impossible decisions.

Top it off with a quiet, sensitive Toshirô Mifune... I somehow just don't buy it. Good as he is, it just seems wrong.

"Yeah well take it from a doctor, Syphilis isn't so bad... Naked yet?"
"Yes, well, ahem, nurse... take it from a doctor, Syphilis isn't so bad... Naked yet?"

Overall Rating: 68% (Somewhat Sedentary)

As personal stories go, this one carries with it a particularly nasty sting, especially given the state of the world and the medical history taking place. A Japanese doctor contracts syphilis in 1944. Salvarsan, a very slow and painful side-effect-causing drug that was used before the discovery of penicillin, is our doctor's only option. Penicillin, if properly administered, cures syphilis in weeks. To think that a cure for this man's dilemma was discovered in the 40s, and was probably available in other parts of the world when he was going through this ordeal makes it all the more tragic, making that point perhaps the most sobering (though unintentional) Japanese post-war comment of the film.

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