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
Nice. I agree Drunken Angel is a terrific film. I saw it for the first time as a part of this study and admired basically all of the same things you did: the central performances, the formal recurrence/thematic resonance of the swamp and guitar, certain remarkable shots and compositions. Really great stuff. I’d say my rating of it is right around yours.
Interestingly, in doing background research I learned that Kurosawa considered this the first of his films that was entirely his own, implying that the previous ones had all been subjected to outside forces to one degree or another. He was still subject to American censorship on Drunken Angel, but he seems to have discovered clever ways of tricking and getting around them by this point.
I’m curious what you’ll think of the next 3 pre-Rashomon films, but am particularly excited for when you get to Stray Dog.
Matt I’m curious. You seem to admire Kurosawa and know a lot about him. What are your top 7-10 kurosawa movies?
@Matt Harris – glad we’re on the same page here. So I won’t be getting to The Quiet Scandal as I can’t find it. So Stray Day is next and then Scandal then Rashomon.
What streaming sites/services do you generally use Drake? I can’t find a lot of great movies 🙁 . What are some you would recommend?
Of the 12 I’ve watched so far, I’ve got The Quiet Duel as the worst and a mere recommend. So if you have to miss one, that’s a good one to miss. Not sure why Criterion is missing that one specifically though.
I’ll happily do a top 10 when I’m done the study. Of the films I’ve watched so far, only Scandal and The Quiet Duel rate lower than a Highly Recommend for me. Also, the Criterion channel is the best source for streaming classic cinema, by far. The only annoying thing is I can’t stream it directly from my SmartTV and the app isn’t offered on PS4, so I’ve been streaming it on my phone and screen mirroring to my television. How have you been doing it, Drake?
Unbelievable isn’t it. Kurosawa was so good he rarely made movies lower than an HR. Same with Tarkovsky, Kubrick and a few others.
I used to use the many free, legal and HD quality streaming websites available online but because of server overload (presumably due to the lockdown), most of these websites don’t work well anymore. I guess I’m gonna have to start using criterion for classics , prime and Netflix for ‘modern’ movies and disney+ for animated films. This would be a good debate question though. Should movies that are 30 years or older by available to the public for free? If we can borrow books from the library for free, shouldn’t movies also be free to borrow(or atleast old classics)? What do you think?
Mirroring through an HDMI cable or from your phone is good. You can also buy a chromecast connection and cast your movie onto chromecast.
@Matt Harris– yeah I’m not sure why they’re missing that one either. I don’t have the actual criterion channel (maybe that’s why it is different)- but the streaming service which I watch on either my amazon fire stick or whatever or roku—
@Azman— Criterion, Netflix, Prime and then cable but I do get blurays/dvd’s from netflix delivery service still and Turner Classic Movies does a good job curating great movies and I DVR a bunch of those
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Is Drunken Angel now a top 5 performance for Shimura?
@RujK- I’m going to have to do a deep dive through my notes when I update the Shimura page.