“You worry about all of your patients more than yourself.”
An alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) in post-WWII Japan tries to convince a TB-ridden gangster (Toshiro Mifune) to mend his ways and get well.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Doctors and Nurses
- Japanese Films
- Kurosawa Films
While famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is best known for his highly influential historical films — including The Seven Samurai (1954), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), and Ran (1985), to name just a few — he helmed a number of powerful “real time” films early in his lengthy career, many of which remain worthy viewing as well. Drunken Angel — the earliest Kurosawa film listed in Peary’s book — is notable as the movie in which Kurosawa self-reportedly “found himself” as a director. It’s also notable as the first film in which he cast Toshiro Mifune, who would become inextricably linked with Kurosawa’s oeuvre until their final collaboration together in 1965’s Red Beard; Mifune’s volatile performance here makes his star power eminently clear.
Drunken Angel is an atmospheric, neo-realist rendering of life in post-WWII Japan, with Shimura’s desperate attempt to save the life of his TB-riddled patient symbolizing the nation’s struggle to right itself after years of debilitating warfare. Shimura, while noble in his desires, is ultimately a flawed protagonist — he drinks too much, and is too willing to take unnecessary risks in order to rescue Mifune from himself; meanwhile, Mifune — despite his Yakuza associations — is surprisingly sympathetic, and comes across as imminently redeemable. Their relationship together is both curious and weirdly logical, and we watch with fascination to see how things will turn out for this unconventional “odd couple”. Meanwhile, Kurosawa fills the screen with sensuous yet repellent imagery, continuously evoking fetid water as a palpable metaphor for post-war decay and destruction; it’s impossible to turn away, no matter how disturbing the sight.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Toshiro Mifune as Matsunaga
- Takashi Shimura as Dr. Sanada
- Takeo Ito’s noirish cinematography
Yes, as one of Kurosawa’s earliest triumphs. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.
- Historically Relevant
- Important Director