New Criterion DVD: Drunken Angel (aka Yoidore tenshi – Japan 1948)

Drunken Angel (Japan - 1948)

Drunken Angel is the first Kurosawa film starring Toshiro Mifune, and has a strong noir mood.

From the New York Times review of the new Criterion release 27 November:

The liner notes for this Criterion Collection release identify Drunken Angel as a film noir, and visually the movie often suggests the dark, dangerously askew world that Hollywood directors like Anthony Mann and Robert Siodmak were developing during the same period in their urban thrillers. But thematically “Drunken Angel” hails back to an earlier genre, the tenement dramas of the 1920s and ’30s… with their principled heroes and calls for social reform. For every virtuoso sequence – like the Mifune character’s climactic knife fight with his former gang boss, which ends with the two squirming in a pool of white paint – there is a bluntly didactic scene in which the doctor rails against feudal traditions and demands better hygiene.

Shimura and Mifune went on to play symbolic father-and-son-type pairs in several Kurosawa films, including the dazzling and more truly noir-flavored Stray Dog of 1949; their pairing seems to represent the fundamental division in Kurosawa’s work between high-minded sentiment and down-and-dirty action. (Criterion Collection, $39.95, not rated.)

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