The first of 16 pairings (in 16 years) between the acclaimed director/actor pairing of Kurosawa and Mifune – perhaps the greatest pairing in the cinema history
It was Mifune’s fourth film, but the first I have seen and the first in the archives
The titular character isn’t Mifune but Takashi Shimura and rumor has it the film was supposed to be more centered on Shimura (he’s still the lead) but Kurosawa was so impressed with Mifune’s talent that he expanded the young actor’s part. It’s sort of Kurosawa’s Fonda and Wayne (John Ford—even if the Shimura character more resembles a drunk doctor Thomas Mitchell-like character) together for the first time too. They make for great sparring partners, scrapping constantly
A strong formal work, I think it may be a Highly Recommend just based on the strong compositions from Kurosawa and the two lead performances, but Kurosawa opens the dirty standing water in the center of town—called the “swamp”. It would become a metaphor for the ugliness of life, a character in the film. Kurosawa opens here with the credits. Lines like “your lungs are like that swamp”. Kurosawa goes to the swamp often- at least a half dozen times—woven in often with the town’s guitar player.
Mifune and Shimura both are quick tempered, you can’t take your eyes off them – most attention is on the arrival of Mifune but Shimura (who had been in a bunch of Kurosawa films already) had never been better as of 1948.
Great foreground/background framing of the heads of the two leads at 41. Mifune in the foreground drunk. Reversed at 42 minutes. This is Wyler/Welles—brilliant—and both actors are superb at playing drunks
The slow-motion surrealism bashing of the coffin sequence at 70 mins
The makeup work on Mifune is very good—he has TB in the film and he, indeed, looks very skinny and sick
Kurosawa experimenting with the triple mirrors in the climax
The dance hall jitterbug sequence is strong, as is tracking shot of the wounded Mifune at 89 minutes down the hall- a great shot
Finally a sweeping crane shot of his death at 90 minutes with open doors and laundry waving—simply stunning.
Between a highly recommend film and leaning HR/MS – Kurosawa’s best film to date