Drunken Angel VHS
The chaotic worlds of the Japanese Mafia(Yakuza) and an alcoholic doctor collide in this film noir classic from Academy Award- winning director, Akira Kurosawa. Gangster, Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai) visits doctor, Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai), after an unfortunate incident with a bullet. The doctor who despises the Yakuza, discovers the young man is suffering from tuberculosis, a disease symbolic of what is happening to the doctor and the community he serves. Facing his own anger and fear, the doctor aligns himself with the gangster's world and destiny in an attempt to save both their lives. Drunken Angel is the film that started the amazing collaboration of Mifune and Kurosawa, and it was the first film in which Kurosawa had total control-laying the foundation of the auteur's career.
Upon its release in 1948, Drunken Angel was hailed in Japan as Akira Kurosawa's directorial breakthrough, comparable to Kubrick's Paths of Glory in the way it catapulted Kurosawa into a higher level of artistic achievement. Kurosawa himself noted, "In this picture I was finally myself. It was my picture. I was doing it and nobody else."
It is indeed an important, vital film, confidently conceived and expertly executed, illuminating themes that would dominate the finest films in Kurosawa's exceptional career. The setting is a rancid, jerry-built section of a postwar city, where a filthy, disease-ridden pond functions as a physical threat and also as the film's central symbol of decay. It's in this hardscrabble environment that a brash young gangster (Toshiro Mifune, in the role that made him a star) visits an alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) to have a bullet removed from his hand. The doctor discovers that the hot-tempered thug is also doomed by tuberculosis, seen here as the physical manifestation of the gangster's moral decay. The doctor is himself diseased by his drinking, and as these clashing men struggle to make some kind of difference in their pathetic lives (spurned by the return from prison of a ruthless yakuza boss), Kurosawa makes unlikely heroes of them both--men who undergo a personal transformation in a vile and violent world.
Drunken Angel is a transitional film for Japanese cinema and especially for Kurosawa; it offers a vivid glimpse of postwar life (both rotten and restoring), and signals the full blossoming of Kurosawa's talent. And while the title role belongs to Shimura (so memorably poignant in Kurosawa's later masterpiece, Ikiru), the film belongs to the forceful presence of Mifune, whose vitality touches nearly every scene of this timeless and powerful drama. --Jeff Shannon
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The film itself is a tale involving two men on, a doctor and a young yakuza living in a swampy slum outlying Tokyo. The doctor, the titular Drunken Angel is Sanada who makes a pitiful ammount treating poor residents while mixing tea with pure alcohol (easier to get than bootleg whiskey on the black market). Into his life comes young Matsunaga, the leader of a small group. Matsunaga comes saying that he was injured from a door which left a piece in his hand. Of course when Sanada pulls the piece out it looks suspiciously like a bullet. Then Matsunaga coughs and Sanada becomes concerned that he might have tuberculosis. Matsunaga laughs him off but Sanada won't stop tailing Matsunaga as he grows sicker even though most of their run ins end with him being thrown to the ground or fighting with the younger man. Things get complicated when the original head of the family gets released from prison, who just happens to hold Sanada's nurse under his thumb. Where it goes from there I won't say.
This is simply a great film. After I watched Stray Dog for the first time this was one film I had wanted to see for a long time and it thankfully didn't disappoint me. For one thing there is the humanity that Kurosawa embues in his characters that makes them human and interesting. The great Takashi Shimura who played the leader of the Seven Samurai is excellent as Sanada a little man who fights hard trying to protect peoples health living in the slum surrounded by stagnant swamps. Its an easy character to like especially involving the character of young girl also suffering from TB who's almost healed. Without a doubt though the reason to see this movie is Toshiro Mifune as Matsunaga. In his later work with Kurosawa he mostly played gruffer older men, sly and cunning characters that fit the action. Here Mifune was in his mid-twenties, a brash and impudent young man and it tempers his performance as the young hothead. He's rakish and dismissive but also charming in a way that makes him watchable. On the opposite side of the camera of course Kurosawa holds his own as a writer and a director with little touches here and there to bring his slums to life. Some memorable traits I enjoyed are the musical moments like a night club scene where you can see Matsunaga's relationship with his boss slowly disintegrating. And for the first half of the movie theres a bit with a guitarist outside of the doctors office playing a mournful tune. When the lead gangster shows up people know of his return as he takes the mans guitar and plays his own little song. Its a shame that Kurosawa only worked with Mifune for twenty years but every one of their films together is a terrific piece of entertainment. See this movie to see how it began.
The DVD itself from Criterion is of course worth every penny for any fan of Kurosawa. The image is somewhat scratched in places with visible lines running through the image but compared to other films of the age on DVD it is restored greatly from what it could have been from a lesser company. Theres an audio commentary from noted film historian Donald Richie and two documentaries. One is the usual Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to create ported from Japan which does hold a lot of information on the making of the film. The second titled Kurosawa and the Censor is a documentary produced for the dvd documenting the postwar censorhip filmmakers faced from several agencies set up by the government and military. Its a fascinating piece featuring documents from the period with hand written notes outlining problems. For fans of Japanese films this is an interesting historical feature. All in all the usual well rounded package from Criterion and well worth the price.
Takashi Shimura (the head samurai in Seven Samurai)plays an alcoholic doctor in a dumpy urban part of post-war Japan.Toshiro Mifune plays a small-time gangster who initially visits the doctor regarding a bullet wound. The doctor discovers that the gangster also has tuberculosis, and stubbornly tries to treat it. I say stubbornly because the gangster tries to act macho about the disease. The two charactors are both so strongly portrayed that the doctor's attempt to treat the disease and the gangster's faked but desperate non-chalance makes their relationship a struggle; at times they actually come to blows over the doctor's persistence. The doctor , I think, sees some of himself in the gangster; someone on the edge of society, someone with flaws, someone with unfulfilled dreams. The doctor wants the gangster to survive, and the gangster desperately wants to survive, but his "toughness" keeps him from admitting that he wants to live.
In any event, my wife and I fall in love with the doctor everytime we see this film. He is the better angel of our nature, scolding and caring. Watch the film; you too will fall in love with it.
Criterion, please make it into a DVD!
Highly recommend this DVD to new fans of Kurosawa or anyone with a true passion for film.
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