Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writer: Keinosuke Uekusa and Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Reizaburo Yamamoto, and Noriko Sengoku
Drunken Angel was Kurosawa’s seventh film, and more notably his first film of sixteen to star Toshio Mifune. Released in 1948, the film is a Yakuza story set in post-war Japan. The country was also under American occupation, although due to censorships that only makes subtle appearances throughout the film.
The local doctor, Sanada (Takashi Shimura), is interrupted one evening by an unexpected patient, a yakuza Matsunaga (Toshio Mifune), who has been shot. With little care Sanada patches him up, but notices that he may be suffering from tuberculosis. The yakuza initially rejects the diagnosis, and reacts angry, but after getting a second opinion he comes back to Sanada to seek help.
One of the most striking things about Drunken Agnel is the setting. It’s almost post-apocalyptic, with most of it set in run down and impoverished town. In the centre of which is a bomb site filled with infectious water that Sanada has to scare children away from playing near it. The effects of the Second World War on normal people are really felt straight away, even if Kurosawa couldn’t mention it directly.
Then as you get into the story, the plot is pretty straight forward. Sanada reluctantly treats Matsunaga, and along the way they bond a little and Sanada tries to turn him away from the life of the yakuza. Matsunaga believes there’s a code of honour and loyalty in his lifestyle and that is put to the test as he tries to help the doctor. It’s a tragic story, that reaches an inevitable ending.
Overall, the film is just as gripping as it would have been back in 1948. Kurosawa is a masterful director, and this is one of his early classics. It’s a great moral story and one that will have you hooked from start to finish.
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