After a battle with rival criminals, a small-time gangster is treated by an alcoholic doctor in post-war Japan. The doctor diagnoses the young gangster's tuberculosis, and convinces him to begin treatment for it. The two enjoy an uneasy friendship until the gangster's former boss is released from prison and seeks to take over his gang once again. The ailing young man loses his status as gang boss and becomes ostracised, and eventually confronts his former boss in a battle to the death. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
This movie is very important for a number of reasons: it marks the beginning of the prolific collaboration between Mifune and Kurosawa, it is the first film the director made without interference from the studios and it is not a "typical" Kurosawa film as many seem to think at his samurai movies.
I must say I have a thing for the master's earlier project, such as this one, Stray Dog and his masterpieces Rashomon and Ikiru, movies that I come back to from time to time. Drunken Angel is interesting because it takes some of the elements of gangster and noir, combining them with some neorealist elements into a unique Japoneese blend. As such the movie is a drama of change, since it was shot in the intense atmosphere of post-WWII Japan. We are dealing with a thug played marvelously by Mifune who is diagnosed with TB but is reluctant to face the fact he's going to die soon. At the same time we have him as a member of the Yakuza who believes in a code of honor even if he may be one of the last to believe in that code.
It's hard to understand the poignancy of this message today but when Kurosawa made the movie it was very relevant, Mifune's character is unable to understand the proximity of his own death because he is unable to stand up to it and on the other hand he clings to past ideals in which nobody but him still believes. His only friend is a "drunken angel", a doctor who is torn between his duty to fight the disease of his patient and his own problems with facing a cruel reality.
The metaphor of the swamp is also very interesting and marks a beginning of Kurosawa's use of landscape to develop a story. There is also the symbolism of water present only it's not yet as meaningful as in Rashomon
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