The breakthrough film for both Kurosawa and key collaborator and alter ego Mifune, it was heralded by Japanese critics as the work of a cinematic master. The story was originally to have centered around the heroic, alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura), who runs a clinic for the indigent on the outskirts of a Tokyo slum neighborhood, but Mifune made such a powerful impression on the director that he expanded his role, that of a tubercular gangster, shifting the film's focus to the relationship between them. The doctor sees something of himself in the hard-drinking, self-destructive yakuza, and tries to get him to reform. The young Mifune is forceful and charismatic; even just leaning against a wall he exudes energy. His delirious swing dancing in an American-style club is alone worth the price of admission. Like much of the semi-documentary material shot against the backdrop of the city, to Kurosawa, it's evidence of the depravity of Japan, now occupied by American troops, with native traditions and customs fallen by the wayside. Similarly, the director returns to a shot of a disease-ridden sump outside the doctor's office, like the gangster's tuberculosis, a metaphor for the condition of the defeated country.
Originally titled Yoidore tenshi, Drunken Angel was director Akira Kurosawa's first "auteur" project. "I finally discovered myself," he explained later. "It was my picture: I was doing it and no one else." Takashi Shimura plays an alcoholic doctor, running a fleabitten clinic in the slums of Tokyo. Shimura tries to pull himself together long enough to save the life of young hoodlum Toshiro Mifune. The doctor feels that, by saving Mifune, he is retrieving a portion of his own lost youth and idealism. Kurosawa later observed that he had trouble corraling Tohsiro Mifune's improvisational instincts, but that "I did not want to smother that vitality." The end result in Drunken Angel is a supremely satisfying blend of Mifune's rapid-fire excesses and Kurosawa's even-handed control.
All Movie Guide - Michael Costello
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