Drunken Angel

Movie Information

Drunken Angel, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, May 15, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Score:

Genre: Crime/Drama
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Toshirô Mifune, Reisaburo Yamamoto, Michiyo Kogure, Chieko Nakakita
Rated: NR

This 1948 film from Akira Kurosawa was, according to the filmmaker, the work in which he found his style. Since Drunken Angel—which also marked Kurosawa’s meeting with Toshirô Mifune—is the earliest of the director’s films I’ve seen, I can’t offer an opinion on his claim. I can, however, say that this heavily symbolic gangster drama is very much in his style. The striking compositions, optical-wipe scene transitions, the strong characters, the sense of humanity (often hidden behind a gruff facade) are all there. What’s perhaps most fascinating about seeing them here is that it’s also possible to see the heavy influence of Josef von Sternberg and Hollywood movies on Kurosawa in sharper relief—before such elements were more assimilated. That’s all the more interesting when you consider the film’s post-war theme of the Americanization of Japan.

The drunken angel of the title is a genially abrupt, hard-drinking doctor (Takashi Shimura) who works in a rundown, crime-ridden district that appears to be centered on a festering swamp that breeds disease and mosquitos (the symbolism is not exactly subtle). The story begins with the doctor treating a wounded gangster (Mifune), who turns out to also have tuberculosis—a diagnosis that makes the gangster violent. Neither doctor nor patient can quite come to terms with the other, nor can they bring themselves to give up on each other. Much of the film focuses on this strange relationship, which serves to make accessibly human the bigger aspect of Kurosawa’s story of post-war Japan coming to terms with itself. Brilliant filmmaking that remains powerful and moving today.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

6 thoughts on “Drunken Angel

  1. ncain

    Did Drunken Angel come before or after Stray Dog? I watched Stray Dog for the first time not too long ago, and was impressed. He took what could have been a rather routine police drama and really took it to another level. I know it’s the earliest Kurosawa film of his I’ve seen. I think all the other stuff I’ve watched, like Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai are from the fifties.

  2. ncain: “Stray Dog” was made a year later. It’s a better film in many respects — not that “Drunken Angel” is bad — largely because of Kurosawa’s settling on a visual and filming style. It’s not until “Stray Dog” that his films really start to have that distinctly Kurosawa look to them.

    Man, I love Kurosawa. At least until “Red Beard.” After that, he’s really hit-and-miss.

    Ken: Thanks for reviewing this. Any chance you’ve got an “Ikiru” or “Stray Dog” review coming soon? Or an examination of the works of Ozu?

  3. Ken Hanke

    Ken: Thanks for reviewing this. Any chance you’ve got an “Ikiru” or “Stray Dog” review coming soon? Or an examination of the works of Ozu?

    Depends on what Carlos decides to show.

  4. Ken Hanke

    My favorite of the many unsung Kurosawa flicks. Absolutely superb movie.

    I know liking the more obscure works in someone’s oeuvre is an easy game, but I’m starting to get the feeling that the “unsung Kurosawa” is where the gold is.

  5. “I know liking the more obscure works in someone’s oeuvre is an easy game, but I’m starting to get the feeling that the “unsung Kurosawa” is where the gold is”

    Sung, unsung … there’s gold all over the place in his work. You really can’t go wrong with any of Kurosawa’s stuff during this period. It’s the later period, when he starts working in color, that you have to really look more closely for the shining gems.

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