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Drunken Angel

Criterion Collection; $39.95

Akira Kurosawa's seventh film, Drunken Angel, was his first with Toshiro Mifune. As Matsunaga, a hot-headed yazuka in postwar Tokyo, Mifune makes a riveting antihero with his slicked-back hair and American-style zoot suit. Mifune is so vivid a bad guy that the film's dialectic structure is thrown out of whack; in the wildest scene, Matsunaga tears up the dance floor while a Japanese Josephine Baker bellows a Cab Calloway–style "Jungle Boogie" (with lyrics by Kurosawa). Kurosawa contrasts Matsunaga's destructive gangster code (echoing Japanese militarism in the war) with the selflessness of Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura), a hard-drinking but softhearted doctor who treats the poor. When Sanada discovers that Matsunaga has TB, he makes it his duty to try to cure him, just as Matsunaga swears to save a young woman from another gangster. Unfortunately, Sanada spends too much of the film yelling impotently at Mifune's unstoppable id. Although subject to censorship by the Americans (as explained in a documentary on the disc), the film addresses Japanese soul-searching during the Occupation. The action takes place around a polluted open sewer that symbolizes the toxic aftermath of the war. Kurosawa returns again and again to this fetid bog bubbling with methane gas. This Criterion restoration also includes a Japanese documentary about Kurosawa and the making of the film (those bubbles were created by off-screen crew members blowing on very long straws). (Michael S. Gant)

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