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Drunken Angel
(YOIDORE TENSHI) 1948, b/w., 102 min; A Toho Film.

(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Screenplay: Keinosuke Uegusa and Akira Kurosawa. Photography: Takeo Ito. Music: Fumio Hayasaka. Co-stars: Takashi Shimura, Reizaburo Yamamoto, Michiyo Kogure, Chieko Nakakita.

"...With the appearance of Toshiro Mifune as the gangster in Drunken Angel, this was the first picture in which my original idea was totally turned upside down. Shimura's portrayal of the doctor was excellent, but I just couldn't restrain the overpowering force of Mifune's performance. Naturally, as the title indicates, the doctor was supposed to be the film's hero. But what a shame it would have been to stifle Mifune's vitality. He reacts so swiftly to direction, you know: If I say one thing, he understands ten. I decided to turn him loose." (Akira Kurosawa)

Drunken Angel, the third film of his career, was the movie that made Mifune
unquestionably a star. He plays Matsunaga, an arrogant petty hoodlum, who comes to a rundown clinic in a Tokyo slum to have a bullet removed from his hand. Dr. Sanada, whose fondness for booze equals his fierce determination to save his patients from disease, discovers that the young gangster also has tuberculosis. Loathing each other, but at the same time drawn together by desperate mutual need, the two strong-willed men develop a grudging respect for one another. This film is the story of their relationship. When Matsunaga is brutally killed in a gang war, the doctor mounrs him without sentimentality, beginning to comprehend the goodness in him that had been locked ina death-struggle with the violence and evil of his life.

The moral ambiguities of both doctor and hoodlum make for a script of extraordinary subtlety. As Donald Richie has described them: "...the doctor is a kind of angel because he is absolutely determined to do good, the way other men might be determined to do bad. Like the hero of Red Beard, he knows precisely wherein good lies and nothing will stop him. But Mifune is a kind of angel too, though of a darker breed. He is the kind of angel one wrestles with, and the doctor must play Jacob to this dark, unknowable power." With two superb performances from his protagonists, and with a furious passion to depict the depravity of postwar Japan, Kurosawa created a masterpiece.

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