Drunken Angel


1h 38m 1948
Drunken Angel

Brief Synopsis

An alcoholic doctor builds a shaky friendship with a dying gangster.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ange ivre, A, El angel ebrio, L' Ange ivre, Yoidore Tenshi
Genre
Drama
Crime
Thriller
Foreign
Release Date
1948
Production Company
Toho Company Ltd.
Location
Japan

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

A gangster with tuberculosis and a bullet lodged in his hand relates to the alcoholic doctor that treats him.

Videos

Movie Clip

Drunken Angel (1948) - Don't Think Like A Slave! First domestic scene for Takashi Shimura as the title character, inebriate Tokyo doctor Sanada, arguing with granny (Choko Iida) and scolding his assistant and friend Miyo (Chieko Nakakita) for her fear of a gangster due to be released from prison, in Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, 1948.
Drunken Angel (1948) - There's Nothing Left To Drink Doctor Sanada (Takashi Shimura, title character) has contrived an excuse to visit his new patient, gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) at his night club, aiming to scold him for failing to show him a damning x-ray, in grungy post-WWII Tokyo, in Kurosawa’s landmark Drunken Angel,1948.
Drunken Angel (1948) - You Already Look Like A Ghost Staggering home in the Tokyo slums after a bad night, consumptive gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune, in his first picture for director Akira Kurosawa) tangles with snarky sometime-girlfriend Nanae (Michiyo Kogure), then meets dreaded crime boss Okada (Reizaburo Namamoto), just released from prison, in Drunken Angel, 1948.
Drunken Angel (1948) - You're A Leech Following up on their violent meeting the night before, inebriate doctor Sanada (Takashi Shimura) pursues gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) to his lair in the slums, early in Akira Kurosawa's Drunken Angel, 1948.
Drunken Angel (1948) - You Call That A Nail? Following the credits, getting familiar with the cesspool, Toshiro Mifune, as gangster Matsunaga, in his first scene in his first film with director Akira Kurosawa, visits doctor Sanada (Takashi Shimura), in the celebrated post-war Japan morality play, Drunken Angel, 1948.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ange ivre, A, El angel ebrio, L' Ange ivre, Yoidore Tenshi
Genre
Drama
Crime
Thriller
Foreign
Release Date
1948
Production Company
Toho Company Ltd.
Location
Japan

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Drunken Angel


"In this picture I was finally myself," Akira Kurosawa was to write of his eighth film, Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi) (1948). It was a complicated self, and Kurosawa's remark can be taken to mean that it was in this film that he was finally able to bring together its various strands with a commanding technique. More than any other Japanese filmmaker, Kurosawa embraced Western culture, while remaining thoroughly Japanese. Thus, Drunken Angel, with its souls of a slum doctor and a conflicted gangster struggling to find moral traction in a vividly specific postwar Japan, seems to migrate easily between Italian neorealism and gritty noir-bound Warner Brothers gangster movies.

Yet Drunken Angel is above all a vivid evocation of postwar Tokyo, still pocked with bomb craters as Japan was struggling to its feet in the wake of a disastrous and crippling war. The film's core image is a toxic cesspool at the center of its world of marginalized slum dwellers, shopkeepers and the gangsters preying on them in a community that seems more encampment than neighborhood. Muddy, bubbling away, it seems ever ready to consume them all. Oozing poisonousness, it stops short of having a Godzilla rise up from its fetid depths, but only just. The doctor can't help chasing kids away from it, knowing they'll just come back. Late in the film, when a damaged woman stares into it, and Kurosawa cuts to a child's broken doll floating on its surface, the visual shorthand becomes instant biography.

In Japan, which had an ongoing love-hate relationship with Kurosawa stemming from his affinity for the West, Drunken Angel was Kurosawa's critical breakthrough, although he had enjoyed popular successes. It also was the breakthrough film of Toshiro Mifune, who impressed Kurosawa at a Toho Studios cattle-call audition and urged Toho to sign him. Kurosawa said that what grabbed him was the young Mifune's quickness, intensity and dynamism. Mifune starred in 16 of the next 17 films Kurosawa made. They became one of film's history-making teams, no less than John Wayne and John Ford (one of Kurosawa's major influences), peaking in their string of samurai protagonists, starting in 1950 with Rashomon, the film that made Kurosawa and Japanese film international.

In Drunken Angel, Mifune's yakuza thug stumbles into the doctor's dispensary with a bloody hand, saying it was torn by a nail protruding from a door. But when the physician extracts a bullet from the wound, he pours scorn on the man, refusing to give him an anesthetic when he stitches him up. The hot-tempered thug does not take it passively. When the doctor, hearing the thug's cough and recognizing it as tubercular, orders him to get an x-ray, the thug grows ballistic. It gets physical. As their paths continue to cross, there's a lot of punching, shoving and pushing. It's a visual analogue to the internal struggles that are the film's ultimate subject.

Takashi Shimura, playing the gruff doctor, made even more films with Kurosawa than Mifune –- 21. He starred in what many claim is Kurosawa's finest film, Ikiru (1952), and also went toe to toe with Mifune in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954). His doctor, irascible, prisoner of a sense of responsibility that won't allow him to do less than his best to help his dispossessed patients, heightens the film's sense of danger. He's impulsive. He isn't afraid to stand up to the yakuza. When another gangster asks the doc if he wants to die, the pugnacious doctor replies: "I'm not afraid of you. I've killed more people than you have." And he drinks. This was necessary, Kurosawa's co-screenwriter, Keinosuke Uekusa, said, because as originally conceived, the doctor was too perfect. He needed a conspicuous flaw. So they made him an unapologetic alcoholic, the kind who goes into a bar for a drink and, spotting one of his patients drinking, slaps the glass out of the man's hand.

Seeing his younger self in Mifune's yakuza, the physician keeps bulldogging him. He realizes that the younger man's outbursts are the product of fear and confusion, that he's cocky on the outside, shaky on the inside. Still, although the titular and sometimes eruptive doc is delivered from the pall of uplift that might have enshrouded a benevolent father figure, he has all he can do to not be blown off the screen by Mifune's charismatic young thug, who benefits from being dressed in sharp Western duds that stop just this side of flashy zoot suits. He also dances madly in the film's perhaps unintentional parody of a Hollywood gangland nightclub scene, with a strident chanteuse in a vaguely birdlike costume and lots of frantic jitterbugging. (He also is at the center of a dream scene that seems the film's only wrong stylistic move, showing him on a beach, opening a coffin that contains his own corpse that proceeds to chase him.)

The question is whether he's going to make contact with his true nature and still get out of the criminal world alive -– all the while fighting TB. His rival (Reisaburo Yamamoto) in the gang hierarchy and for the affections (if they can be called that) of the moll he's sleeping with is potently brought on by Kurosawa, using the swamp as storyboard. First we see Mifune's character's shadow darken it. Then, approaching from the rear, the shadow of his former boss, released from prison. We first see the old gangster the night before, appearing in the rubble, atop of which a guitarist sits, strumming a simple tune. The old killer appears, appropriates the guitar, and plays his own song -- his way of letting everyone know they'll be dancing to his tune now. The inevitable showdown between Mifune's gangster and Yamamoto's is staged in a knife fight in a slum, with the two men slipping and sliding around in angel-white paint from a spilled bucket.

It's the death analogue to the often physical grappling between the doctor and the thug for the thug's soul, and its vision of an inner life reclaimed. Using camera moves, pans, sudden in-your-face close-ups, and assimilated stylistic devices, Kurosawa virtuosically plucks influences from a pantheon of film greats, like an inspired magpie, making all the correct esthetic decisions, seemingly on the fly, imparting to Drunken Angel an energy and urgency that yank it further toward Western rhythms and away from ritualized Japanese pacings and conventions.

It also, to anyone with eyes, blurs the neat, convenient, but false line between gendai-geki (his early dramas powered by the urgency of contemporary postwar Japanese life) and jidai-geki (the samurai costume dramas, on which Kurosawa's reputation mostly rests). Although thoroughly modern, Kurosawa's family could trace its roots to 11th century samurai ancestors. He was imbued with samurai values, and they weren't restricted to his costume dramas. What is the doctor, after all, but a modern samurai, driven by a code of honor, no matter how seemingly futile? One of the things that enabled Kurosawa to regenerate the urgency implicit in samurai drama was to enliven its rituals with the scruffiness of down-and-dirty types rendered with the kind of detailing he learned from the neo-realists. The upbeat, and some say unearned, optimistic ending of Drunken Angel, with the doctor marching off alongside a schoolgirl who shook her TB by adhering to a strict regimen, has its analogue in Rashomon, where the woodcutter ends that film by taking a foundling under his wing. Apart from its considerable virtues and entertainment value, Drunken Angel reminds us that for Kurosawa the gendai-geki and jidai-geki, far from being mutually exclusive, are entwined.

Producer: Sojiro Motoki
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Keinosuke Uekusa, Akira Kurosawa
Cinematography: Takeo Ito
Music: Fumio Hayasaka
Film Editing: Akikazu Kono
Cast: Takashi Shimura (Sanada), Toshiro Mifune (Matsunaga), Reisaburo Yamamoto (Okada), Michiyo Kogure (Nanae), Chieko Nakakita (Miyo), Noriko Sengoku (Gin), Shizuko Kasagi (Singer), Eitaro Shindo (Takahama), Masao Shimizu (Oyabun), Taiji Tonoyama (Shop Proprietor), Yoshiko Kuga (Schoolgirl), Choko Iida (Baya).
BW-99m. Closed Captioning.

by Jay Carr

Sources:
Akira Kurosawa: Something Like an Autobiography, Knopf, 1982
Japanese Cinema: an Introduction, Donald Richie, Oxford University Press, 1990
Rebels in a Kimono, By Douglas McVay, Films and Filmmaking, August 1959
Samurai – and Small Beer, By Douglas McVay, Films and Filmmaking, August 1961
The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Donald Richie and Joan Mellen, University of California Press, 1999
The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Ritchie, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1959
Picturing Japaneseness: Monumental Style, National Identity, Japanese Film, by Darrell William Davis, Columbia University Press, 1996
International Directory of Film and Filmmakers, article by Audie Bock, Pan Macmillan, 1987
Drunken Angel, article by David Desser, Magill's Survey of Cinema, Gale Group, 1985
IMDb
Drunken Angel

Drunken Angel

"In this picture I was finally myself," Akira Kurosawa was to write of his eighth film, Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi) (1948). It was a complicated self, and Kurosawa's remark can be taken to mean that it was in this film that he was finally able to bring together its various strands with a commanding technique. More than any other Japanese filmmaker, Kurosawa embraced Western culture, while remaining thoroughly Japanese. Thus, Drunken Angel, with its souls of a slum doctor and a conflicted gangster struggling to find moral traction in a vividly specific postwar Japan, seems to migrate easily between Italian neorealism and gritty noir-bound Warner Brothers gangster movies. Yet Drunken Angel is above all a vivid evocation of postwar Tokyo, still pocked with bomb craters as Japan was struggling to its feet in the wake of a disastrous and crippling war. The film's core image is a toxic cesspool at the center of its world of marginalized slum dwellers, shopkeepers and the gangsters preying on them in a community that seems more encampment than neighborhood. Muddy, bubbling away, it seems ever ready to consume them all. Oozing poisonousness, it stops short of having a Godzilla rise up from its fetid depths, but only just. The doctor can't help chasing kids away from it, knowing they'll just come back. Late in the film, when a damaged woman stares into it, and Kurosawa cuts to a child's broken doll floating on its surface, the visual shorthand becomes instant biography. In Japan, which had an ongoing love-hate relationship with Kurosawa stemming from his affinity for the West, Drunken Angel was Kurosawa's critical breakthrough, although he had enjoyed popular successes. It also was the breakthrough film of Toshiro Mifune, who impressed Kurosawa at a Toho Studios cattle-call audition and urged Toho to sign him. Kurosawa said that what grabbed him was the young Mifune's quickness, intensity and dynamism. Mifune starred in 16 of the next 17 films Kurosawa made. They became one of film's history-making teams, no less than John Wayne and John Ford (one of Kurosawa's major influences), peaking in their string of samurai protagonists, starting in 1950 with Rashomon, the film that made Kurosawa and Japanese film international. In Drunken Angel, Mifune's yakuza thug stumbles into the doctor's dispensary with a bloody hand, saying it was torn by a nail protruding from a door. But when the physician extracts a bullet from the wound, he pours scorn on the man, refusing to give him an anesthetic when he stitches him up. The hot-tempered thug does not take it passively. When the doctor, hearing the thug's cough and recognizing it as tubercular, orders him to get an x-ray, the thug grows ballistic. It gets physical. As their paths continue to cross, there's a lot of punching, shoving and pushing. It's a visual analogue to the internal struggles that are the film's ultimate subject. Takashi Shimura, playing the gruff doctor, made even more films with Kurosawa than Mifune –- 21. He starred in what many claim is Kurosawa's finest film, Ikiru (1952), and also went toe to toe with Mifune in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954). His doctor, irascible, prisoner of a sense of responsibility that won't allow him to do less than his best to help his dispossessed patients, heightens the film's sense of danger. He's impulsive. He isn't afraid to stand up to the yakuza. When another gangster asks the doc if he wants to die, the pugnacious doctor replies: "I'm not afraid of you. I've killed more people than you have." And he drinks. This was necessary, Kurosawa's co-screenwriter, Keinosuke Uekusa, said, because as originally conceived, the doctor was too perfect. He needed a conspicuous flaw. So they made him an unapologetic alcoholic, the kind who goes into a bar for a drink and, spotting one of his patients drinking, slaps the glass out of the man's hand. Seeing his younger self in Mifune's yakuza, the physician keeps bulldogging him. He realizes that the younger man's outbursts are the product of fear and confusion, that he's cocky on the outside, shaky on the inside. Still, although the titular and sometimes eruptive doc is delivered from the pall of uplift that might have enshrouded a benevolent father figure, he has all he can do to not be blown off the screen by Mifune's charismatic young thug, who benefits from being dressed in sharp Western duds that stop just this side of flashy zoot suits. He also dances madly in the film's perhaps unintentional parody of a Hollywood gangland nightclub scene, with a strident chanteuse in a vaguely birdlike costume and lots of frantic jitterbugging. (He also is at the center of a dream scene that seems the film's only wrong stylistic move, showing him on a beach, opening a coffin that contains his own corpse that proceeds to chase him.) The question is whether he's going to make contact with his true nature and still get out of the criminal world alive -– all the while fighting TB. His rival (Reisaburo Yamamoto) in the gang hierarchy and for the affections (if they can be called that) of the moll he's sleeping with is potently brought on by Kurosawa, using the swamp as storyboard. First we see Mifune's character's shadow darken it. Then, approaching from the rear, the shadow of his former boss, released from prison. We first see the old gangster the night before, appearing in the rubble, atop of which a guitarist sits, strumming a simple tune. The old killer appears, appropriates the guitar, and plays his own song -- his way of letting everyone know they'll be dancing to his tune now. The inevitable showdown between Mifune's gangster and Yamamoto's is staged in a knife fight in a slum, with the two men slipping and sliding around in angel-white paint from a spilled bucket. It's the death analogue to the often physical grappling between the doctor and the thug for the thug's soul, and its vision of an inner life reclaimed. Using camera moves, pans, sudden in-your-face close-ups, and assimilated stylistic devices, Kurosawa virtuosically plucks influences from a pantheon of film greats, like an inspired magpie, making all the correct esthetic decisions, seemingly on the fly, imparting to Drunken Angel an energy and urgency that yank it further toward Western rhythms and away from ritualized Japanese pacings and conventions. It also, to anyone with eyes, blurs the neat, convenient, but false line between gendai-geki (his early dramas powered by the urgency of contemporary postwar Japanese life) and jidai-geki (the samurai costume dramas, on which Kurosawa's reputation mostly rests). Although thoroughly modern, Kurosawa's family could trace its roots to 11th century samurai ancestors. He was imbued with samurai values, and they weren't restricted to his costume dramas. What is the doctor, after all, but a modern samurai, driven by a code of honor, no matter how seemingly futile? One of the things that enabled Kurosawa to regenerate the urgency implicit in samurai drama was to enliven its rituals with the scruffiness of down-and-dirty types rendered with the kind of detailing he learned from the neo-realists. The upbeat, and some say unearned, optimistic ending of Drunken Angel, with the doctor marching off alongside a schoolgirl who shook her TB by adhering to a strict regimen, has its analogue in Rashomon, where the woodcutter ends that film by taking a foundling under his wing. Apart from its considerable virtues and entertainment value, Drunken Angel reminds us that for Kurosawa the gendai-geki and jidai-geki, far from being mutually exclusive, are entwined. Producer: Sojiro Motoki Director: Akira Kurosawa Screenplay: Keinosuke Uekusa, Akira Kurosawa Cinematography: Takeo Ito Music: Fumio Hayasaka Film Editing: Akikazu Kono Cast: Takashi Shimura (Sanada), Toshiro Mifune (Matsunaga), Reisaburo Yamamoto (Okada), Michiyo Kogure (Nanae), Chieko Nakakita (Miyo), Noriko Sengoku (Gin), Shizuko Kasagi (Singer), Eitaro Shindo (Takahama), Masao Shimizu (Oyabun), Taiji Tonoyama (Shop Proprietor), Yoshiko Kuga (Schoolgirl), Choko Iida (Baya). BW-99m. Closed Captioning. by Jay Carr Sources: Akira Kurosawa: Something Like an Autobiography, Knopf, 1982 Japanese Cinema: an Introduction, Donald Richie, Oxford University Press, 1990 Rebels in a Kimono, By Douglas McVay, Films and Filmmaking, August 1959 Samurai – and Small Beer, By Douglas McVay, Films and Filmmaking, August 1961 The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Donald Richie and Joan Mellen, University of California Press, 1999 The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Ritchie, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1959 Picturing Japaneseness: Monumental Style, National Identity, Japanese Film, by Darrell William Davis, Columbia University Press, 1996 International Directory of Film and Filmmakers, article by Audie Bock, Pan Macmillan, 1987 Drunken Angel, article by David Desser, Magill's Survey of Cinema, Gale Group, 1985 IMDb

The Drunken Angel - Toshiro Mifune Stars In His First Collaboration with Director Akira Kurosawa - THE DRUNKEN ANGEL


Now available from the folks at Criterion is Akira Kurosawa's 1948 film The Drunken Angel, making its Region 1 debut on DVD. In this absorbing film noir-influenced drama, Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) is the titular hero, a boozy, beaten-down doctor tending to the sick and to the poor in a slum-ridden Tokyo neighborhood. In the first scene, a violent, tempestuous gangster named Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) bursts into Sanada's office, seeing help in tending to a bullet wound. Upon treating the gangster, Sanada discovers that the cocky Matsunaga is also suffering the late stages of advanced tuberculosis, a common malady in postwar Tokyo, but aggravated by a sump of filthy water and toxic garbage that stagnates in the middle of the bustling neighborhood. Sanada and Matsunaga's relationship is hostile at first. "I make it a policy to rip-off deadbeats," the doctor growls to Matsunaga. But the doctor also recognizes Matsunaga's need for human warmth and care, and the fact that his future is sadly all used up, much like Orson Welles' rotten Hank Quinlan in 1958's Touch of Evil. In the process of treating even a hated gangster, a character indicative of the moral decay of postwar Japan, Sanada recognizes his own humanity and his prevalent need to step away, if only for a little while, from his own alcoholic abyss.

The Drunken Angel was not Akira Kurosawa's first film. It was his eighth. But it was the first film that is unmistakably an "Akira Kurosawa" picture. It bore the authorship of the Emperor only. His earlier pictures were met with censorious scrutiny from the Japanese government and American occupation forces, as well as critical changes from Toho Studios and unionist demands. "In (Drunken Angel) I finally found myself," he said. "It was my picture. I was doing it and no one else." According to Japanese film historian and cultural expert Donald Richie, Drunken Angel remains, for most Japanese, "Kurosawa's 'first picture' and its evocation of the early postwar years, both their misery and their freedom, has made it one of the director's most revived films."

Kurosawa and co-writer Keinosuke Uekusa built the story around a pre-existing film set built for Kajiro Yamamoto's The New Age of Fools (1947), a film that portrayed the squalor that Japan had fallen into after its humiliating defeat in World War II. Kurosawa said in his 1983 book Something Like an Autobiography, "(Toho) had built a huge open set of a shopping street with a black market for this film, and later they came to me asking if I couldn't use it to film something too. Yama-san's film had been about the black markets that sprang up everywhere like bamboo shoots after a rain in postwar Japan. Included in this phenomenon-and in his film-were the yakuza gangsters who put down roots in the black-market environment. I wanted to pursue these figures even more intensely than Yama-san had-I wanted to take a scalpel and dissect the yakuza." While Kurosawa wanted to severely criticize the gangster code, his co-writer Uekusa nursed a more sympathetic point of view towards the yakuza, mainly because he was meeting regularly with a real-life yakuza member, and was becoming rather fond of him. Kurosawa discussed this in his autobiography and admitted that he and his collaborator later "quarreled" over the clashing perspectives. "Perhaps he was simply overcome by his natural feeling of sympathy for the weak, the wounded, and those who live in the shadows of life. In any event, he began to object to my attitude of opposition to the yakuza system."

However, they were of one mind when it came to the other lead character, Dr. Sanada. At first, Sanada was an idealistic, inexperienced doctor, possibly fresh out of medical school. It was a character more similar to the intern doctor who studied under Toshiro Mifune's wiser physician in Red Beard (1965). But both writers recognized that this Sanada could not hold a candle to Matsunaga, even on the written page. The disparity would be even more pronounced once cameras started to roll on Mifune's performance as Matsunaga. To shore up the Sanada character, the screenwriters decided to base him on a real character they met when "script scouting." Kurosawa wrote, "In a slum in the port city of Yokohama we had come across an alcoholic doctor. This man fascinated us with his arrogant manner, and we took him with us to three or four bars and listened to his stories while we drank...Every so often he said something bitterly sarcastic about human nature that gleamed with aptness...There was a strange feeling of raw humanity." [It should also be noted that the wonderful Takashi Shimura based his performance as Sanada on Thomas Mitchell's drunken doctor in Stagecoach (1939), directed by John Ford, one of Kurosawa's major influences.] Although Kurosawa's original intent was to chastise the power of the yakuza, Drunken Angel became the story of the relationship and begrudging friendship between these two radically different characters, the doctor and the gangster, both suffering from a sickness in their souls and in their bodies.

Pre-production on The Drunken Angel began in November 1947, with a hastened shooting schedule begun later that month. Toho pressured Kurosawa to finish the film as soon as possible before the start of a threatened union strike. Kurosawa did indeed finish the film on time, despite the death of his father in February 1948 at the age off eighty-three. "I received a telegram that he was failing quickly," Kurosawa wrote," but I was so pressured to get the picture done for the fixed release date that I couldn't go to be at his side in Akita Prefecture." Drunken Angel was released in April 1948 to rave critical reviews. When an American release finally materialized in 1960, Variety wrote "Drunken Angel...is certainly one of the most effective and searching views of contemporary Japanese life to reach these shores...In technique and style, Drunken Angel would seem to owe a lot to some of the great neo-realist films which came out of postwar Italy. The sharp eye of the camera delights in catching the details of squalor, of oppressive heat and creeping disease, but the details are carefully selected and integrated to contribute to the single overall theme, which is one of human nobility in a chaotic, amoral world." Donald Richie also took note of the shared neo-realist aesthetic. He wrote, "Japanese critics have agreed that (Drunken Angel) is to Japanese cinema as Paisan (1946) or Bicycle Thieves (1948) is to Italian, that it perfectly epitomizes a period, its hopes, its fears; that it marks the major 'breakthrough' of a major directorial talent who has finally 'realized' himself." But Kurosawa was reluctant to say that the neo-realist influence alone brought out his art. He said he experienced "no major change" since before making Drunken Angel, neo-realist or otherwise. "The only difference is that in earlier films I was never allowed to express myself properly."

Drunken Angel was not just the Emperor's first film in which he had true authorial control. It was also the first time in which he worked with the great Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa would direct Mifune in a staggering total of 16 films, which included some of the greatest motion pictures ever made, including Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954). (In comparison, John Wayne starred in only 14 films for John Ford, not including un-credited parts.) Kurosawa first met Mifune at Toho studios when Mifune was there for an open audition that Toho was conducting to recruit new contract actors. Kurosawa was too busy to watch the auditions, but actress Hideko Takamine insisted "There's one who's really fantastic. But he's something of a roughneck...won't you come have a look?" Kurosawa did and as he wrote in his autobiography, "I opened the door (to where the auditions were held) and stopped dead in amazement...a young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy. It was as frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to break loose. I stood transfixed." If it were not for Kurosawa's championing of this young actor who used a radical, almost offensive, primal acting style, Toshiro Mifune would not have made Toho's cut. But he did and was soon bringing this animal magnetism to two Toho films, To the End of the Silver Mountains (1947) and The New Age of Fools. Kurosawa wrote, "I became deeply fascinated by the acting abilities Mifune showed in these two films and decided I wanted him to play the lead in Drunken Angel. I realize that many people think I discovered Mifune and taught him how to act. That is not the case...All I did was...take Mifune's acting talent, and show it off to its fullest in Drunken Angel." Mifune's performance is stylish and suave when he's playing the yakuza gangster in full control, furious when overcome with his own physical weaknesses, and tragically afraid when confronted with his own mortality and the truth of how little his life has added up to. It was a performance that took Japanese audiences completely off-guard. This ferociousness was not something Japanese audiences were used to seeing. The animal magnetism Mifune displayed, and the reaction to it, is similar to how American audiences responded to Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, released in 1951.

Criterion's supplementary material for The Drunken Angel is drunk with riches. There is a segment of the documentary It is Wonderful to Create that deals with the production of Drunken Angel. (Most of Criterion's editions of Kurosawa film include the respective chapter from this same documentary.) Also included is a fine featurette that discusses Kurosawa and Toho's troubles conforming to the strictures of censorship, as set forth by the Japanese government and the American Occupation. Drunken Angel was not adversely affected by censorship, but it was something to work with and around nonetheless. Most useful and illuminating though is Donald Richie's commentary over the film. Not only is Richie the foremost authority on Japanese film and culture, but also he was actually on the set during the making of Drunken Angel and knew Kurosawa for many years. It is Richie's invaluable insights into a most mysterious culture (at least for Western audiences) and his personal experiences with Kurosawa that makes listening to his commentary a must.

For more information about The Drunken Angel, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Drunken Angel, go to TCM Shopping.

by Scott McGee

The Drunken Angel - Toshiro Mifune Stars In His First Collaboration with Director Akira Kurosawa - THE DRUNKEN ANGEL

Now available from the folks at Criterion is Akira Kurosawa's 1948 film The Drunken Angel, making its Region 1 debut on DVD. In this absorbing film noir-influenced drama, Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) is the titular hero, a boozy, beaten-down doctor tending to the sick and to the poor in a slum-ridden Tokyo neighborhood. In the first scene, a violent, tempestuous gangster named Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) bursts into Sanada's office, seeing help in tending to a bullet wound. Upon treating the gangster, Sanada discovers that the cocky Matsunaga is also suffering the late stages of advanced tuberculosis, a common malady in postwar Tokyo, but aggravated by a sump of filthy water and toxic garbage that stagnates in the middle of the bustling neighborhood. Sanada and Matsunaga's relationship is hostile at first. "I make it a policy to rip-off deadbeats," the doctor growls to Matsunaga. But the doctor also recognizes Matsunaga's need for human warmth and care, and the fact that his future is sadly all used up, much like Orson Welles' rotten Hank Quinlan in 1958's Touch of Evil. In the process of treating even a hated gangster, a character indicative of the moral decay of postwar Japan, Sanada recognizes his own humanity and his prevalent need to step away, if only for a little while, from his own alcoholic abyss. The Drunken Angel was not Akira Kurosawa's first film. It was his eighth. But it was the first film that is unmistakably an "Akira Kurosawa" picture. It bore the authorship of the Emperor only. His earlier pictures were met with censorious scrutiny from the Japanese government and American occupation forces, as well as critical changes from Toho Studios and unionist demands. "In (Drunken Angel) I finally found myself," he said. "It was my picture. I was doing it and no one else." According to Japanese film historian and cultural expert Donald Richie, Drunken Angel remains, for most Japanese, "Kurosawa's 'first picture' and its evocation of the early postwar years, both their misery and their freedom, has made it one of the director's most revived films." Kurosawa and co-writer Keinosuke Uekusa built the story around a pre-existing film set built for Kajiro Yamamoto's The New Age of Fools (1947), a film that portrayed the squalor that Japan had fallen into after its humiliating defeat in World War II. Kurosawa said in his 1983 book Something Like an Autobiography, "(Toho) had built a huge open set of a shopping street with a black market for this film, and later they came to me asking if I couldn't use it to film something too. Yama-san's film had been about the black markets that sprang up everywhere like bamboo shoots after a rain in postwar Japan. Included in this phenomenon-and in his film-were the yakuza gangsters who put down roots in the black-market environment. I wanted to pursue these figures even more intensely than Yama-san had-I wanted to take a scalpel and dissect the yakuza." While Kurosawa wanted to severely criticize the gangster code, his co-writer Uekusa nursed a more sympathetic point of view towards the yakuza, mainly because he was meeting regularly with a real-life yakuza member, and was becoming rather fond of him. Kurosawa discussed this in his autobiography and admitted that he and his collaborator later "quarreled" over the clashing perspectives. "Perhaps he was simply overcome by his natural feeling of sympathy for the weak, the wounded, and those who live in the shadows of life. In any event, he began to object to my attitude of opposition to the yakuza system." However, they were of one mind when it came to the other lead character, Dr. Sanada. At first, Sanada was an idealistic, inexperienced doctor, possibly fresh out of medical school. It was a character more similar to the intern doctor who studied under Toshiro Mifune's wiser physician in Red Beard (1965). But both writers recognized that this Sanada could not hold a candle to Matsunaga, even on the written page. The disparity would be even more pronounced once cameras started to roll on Mifune's performance as Matsunaga. To shore up the Sanada character, the screenwriters decided to base him on a real character they met when "script scouting." Kurosawa wrote, "In a slum in the port city of Yokohama we had come across an alcoholic doctor. This man fascinated us with his arrogant manner, and we took him with us to three or four bars and listened to his stories while we drank...Every so often he said something bitterly sarcastic about human nature that gleamed with aptness...There was a strange feeling of raw humanity." [It should also be noted that the wonderful Takashi Shimura based his performance as Sanada on Thomas Mitchell's drunken doctor in Stagecoach (1939), directed by John Ford, one of Kurosawa's major influences.] Although Kurosawa's original intent was to chastise the power of the yakuza, Drunken Angel became the story of the relationship and begrudging friendship between these two radically different characters, the doctor and the gangster, both suffering from a sickness in their souls and in their bodies. Pre-production on The Drunken Angel began in November 1947, with a hastened shooting schedule begun later that month. Toho pressured Kurosawa to finish the film as soon as possible before the start of a threatened union strike. Kurosawa did indeed finish the film on time, despite the death of his father in February 1948 at the age off eighty-three. "I received a telegram that he was failing quickly," Kurosawa wrote," but I was so pressured to get the picture done for the fixed release date that I couldn't go to be at his side in Akita Prefecture." Drunken Angel was released in April 1948 to rave critical reviews. When an American release finally materialized in 1960, Variety wrote "Drunken Angel...is certainly one of the most effective and searching views of contemporary Japanese life to reach these shores...In technique and style, Drunken Angel would seem to owe a lot to some of the great neo-realist films which came out of postwar Italy. The sharp eye of the camera delights in catching the details of squalor, of oppressive heat and creeping disease, but the details are carefully selected and integrated to contribute to the single overall theme, which is one of human nobility in a chaotic, amoral world." Donald Richie also took note of the shared neo-realist aesthetic. He wrote, "Japanese critics have agreed that (Drunken Angel) is to Japanese cinema as Paisan (1946) or Bicycle Thieves (1948) is to Italian, that it perfectly epitomizes a period, its hopes, its fears; that it marks the major 'breakthrough' of a major directorial talent who has finally 'realized' himself." But Kurosawa was reluctant to say that the neo-realist influence alone brought out his art. He said he experienced "no major change" since before making Drunken Angel, neo-realist or otherwise. "The only difference is that in earlier films I was never allowed to express myself properly." Drunken Angel was not just the Emperor's first film in which he had true authorial control. It was also the first time in which he worked with the great Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa would direct Mifune in a staggering total of 16 films, which included some of the greatest motion pictures ever made, including Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954). (In comparison, John Wayne starred in only 14 films for John Ford, not including un-credited parts.) Kurosawa first met Mifune at Toho studios when Mifune was there for an open audition that Toho was conducting to recruit new contract actors. Kurosawa was too busy to watch the auditions, but actress Hideko Takamine insisted "There's one who's really fantastic. But he's something of a roughneck...won't you come have a look?" Kurosawa did and as he wrote in his autobiography, "I opened the door (to where the auditions were held) and stopped dead in amazement...a young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy. It was as frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to break loose. I stood transfixed." If it were not for Kurosawa's championing of this young actor who used a radical, almost offensive, primal acting style, Toshiro Mifune would not have made Toho's cut. But he did and was soon bringing this animal magnetism to two Toho films, To the End of the Silver Mountains (1947) and The New Age of Fools. Kurosawa wrote, "I became deeply fascinated by the acting abilities Mifune showed in these two films and decided I wanted him to play the lead in Drunken Angel. I realize that many people think I discovered Mifune and taught him how to act. That is not the case...All I did was...take Mifune's acting talent, and show it off to its fullest in Drunken Angel." Mifune's performance is stylish and suave when he's playing the yakuza gangster in full control, furious when overcome with his own physical weaknesses, and tragically afraid when confronted with his own mortality and the truth of how little his life has added up to. It was a performance that took Japanese audiences completely off-guard. This ferociousness was not something Japanese audiences were used to seeing. The animal magnetism Mifune displayed, and the reaction to it, is similar to how American audiences responded to Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, released in 1951. Criterion's supplementary material for The Drunken Angel is drunk with riches. There is a segment of the documentary It is Wonderful to Create that deals with the production of Drunken Angel. (Most of Criterion's editions of Kurosawa film include the respective chapter from this same documentary.) Also included is a fine featurette that discusses Kurosawa and Toho's troubles conforming to the strictures of censorship, as set forth by the Japanese government and the American Occupation. Drunken Angel was not adversely affected by censorship, but it was something to work with and around nonetheless. Most useful and illuminating though is Donald Richie's commentary over the film. Not only is Richie the foremost authority on Japanese film and culture, but also he was actually on the set during the making of Drunken Angel and knew Kurosawa for many years. It is Richie's invaluable insights into a most mysterious culture (at least for Western audiences) and his personal experiences with Kurosawa that makes listening to his commentary a must. For more information about The Drunken Angel, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Drunken Angel, go to TCM Shopping. by Scott McGee

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Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States February 1989

Released in United States November 1991

Released in United States on Video June 20, 2000

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1948

Shown at "Early Kurosawa" film series in New York City February 8-9, 1989.

Shown at Contemporary Kurosawa series in Los Angeles November 23 & 24, 1991.

First collaboration of Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.

Re-released in Paris February 6, 1991.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1948

Released in United States February 1989 (Shown at "Early Kurosawa" film series in New York City February 8-9, 1989.)

Released in United States on Video June 20, 2000

Released in United States November 1991 (Shown at Contemporary Kurosawa series in Los Angeles November 23 & 24, 1991.)