Tuesday, August 18, 2015

DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948)

DRUNKEN ANGEL is considered by many to be Kurosawa's "first picture" and I whole-heartedly agree.  To me, it's the first to have that complete Kurosawa feel to it.  It's also the first of 16 collaborations between Mifune and Kurosawa.  Akira's opinion on the matter: "In this picture I was finally myself.  It was my picture.  I was doing it and no one else."

The story takes place in a large city, but all of the events happen in a slum neighborhood surrounding a large foul-looking pond.  Perhaps it's a crater from the war.  Whatever it's origins, it's now a filth-filled hole full of garbage.  The water looks black and something is slowly bubbling up from underneath.  Around this disgusting cancer live thousands of people.  All going about their lives as best they can.  One such person is a doctor (played brilliantly by Takashi Shimura).  He's an alcoholic but truly cares about people.  A drunken angel.  One night a local gangster (Toshiro Mifune) comes to him for help.  He says he has a nail in his hand.  Shimura pulls out a bullet.  From this meeting blossoms a unlikely friendship.  Shimura tells Mifune to take it easy since he believes that Mifune has tuberculosis.  At first he does, but when some gangster business comes up Mifune falls back into his old ways of partying hard and fighting hard.

There's not much action in DRUNKEN ANGEL, it mainly has to do with the characterizations and the daily lives of Mifune, Shimura and the people in their lives.  I've read about some people disliking Mifune's surreal dream scene, but I thought it was brilliant.  Reminded me some of the main characters nightmare in LOS OLVIDADOS.

It's not a masterpiece, but it is the first of Kurosawa's truly great movies.  Highly recommended.