Drunken Angel (1948)

22 03 2008

I’ve voiced my indifference to Akira Kurosawa on here before, most notably in my review for The Idiot which had, until now, been my favorite effort from the man. Similarly, I’m not too big on film noir, either. Yes, shadows and hats are nice but the genre seems to be built almost entirely around exposition. And yet, Kurosawa doing noir is really fantastic. Drunken Angel is far from a perfect movie, mind you, but it maintains the good intentions of The Lower Depths and The Idiot, while still resulting with something a bit more distinct and personal.

One night, Doctor Sanada is interrupted by Matsunaga, who claims to have a nail in his hand. Sanada realizes that Mastunaga is most likely a yakuza, or in his own words a “hooligan.” This theory is proven when the nail turns out to be a bullet, a discovery which sparks a passive-agressive conversation between the two men. Eventually, the topic of tuberculosis is brought up and Mastunaga is convinced to get checked for it. Doctor Sanada suggests therapy right away, which leads to a very complicated relationship.

The above description pretty much sidesteps all the specifics. Rest assured, this is not a “bonding” movie but more just a examination into the two main characters lives, their differences, and their similarities. This sounds like a simplification in characterization but the characters themselves are quite deep. Especially when you compare them to Kurosawa’s usual “good vs. bad” technique. It seems that instead of having separate beings to symbolize good or bad, he had both good and bad exist inside both of the characters in Drunken Angel. I suppose it helps that the performance are better than one usually expects from Kurosawa, but in all honesty they are still a bit too expressive for my taste. The argument could be made that they have a campy charm, but that couldn’t be said taking the rest of the film into account.

This is probably Kurosawa’s best looking film as well. If not, then it’s certainly his most “visually interesting.” The swamp located in the middle of town has a particularly enigmatic feel to it and acts as a perfect set piece for the film’s transition sequences, all of which are highlighted by very atmospheric music. I suppose other noirs create this type of feeling, but it tends I guess it just becomes irrelevant when your film is so focused on plot development. Drunken Angel is distinct and stylish but still contains something beyond the superficial coolness. There is now right and wrong here, this is just people. Sure, it’s dramatic, even for it’s time, but it represents Kurosawa at his most honest.



2 responses

22 03 2008

“Drunken Angel is distinct and stylish”


“but still contains something beyond the superficial coolness.”

sir, you just talked yourself right out of a deal

23 03 2008
Michael Kerpan

I like this — but like Quiet Duel just as much and Stray Dog even more.

I suspect the story here was not all that true to life — even though it was definitely “of the moment”.

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