Drunken Angel never hides its sentimentality. The film’s protagonist, an alcoholic doctor working in a slum (Shimura Takashi in a glorious performance), is well aware of his sentimentality. He resents it–Shimura has these great yelling and throwing scenes–but it’s what keeps him going. It also allows director Kurosawa to have intensely sentimental sequences without affecting the tone of the film–sometimes it’s in Hayasaka Fumio’s score, sometimes it’s just how Kurosawa and Kôno Akikazu cut a sequence.
The film’s story has Shimura getting a new patient–Mifune Toshirô’s erratic (similarly hard-drinking) Yakuza neighborhood boss. The two fight, often physically, but form a bond–Mifune’s all subtlety, Shimura’s all noise. When their volumes reverse is when Kurosawa and co-writer Uekusa Keinosuke get in some fantastic character work. Of course, the actors are essential to it. Both of them become clearer and clearer as the film progresses. Even though Drunken Angel has an epical arc to it, it’s very much a character study.
It’s also a setting study–Shimura’s practice is on the edge of a garbage swamp in the slum, Mifune’s favorite night club is just blocks away. In a relatively short run time (under 100 minutes), Kurosawa and Uekusa introduce a large supporting cast, establishing them usually in a few seconds, usually without much dialogue.
As the epical arc goes along its track, the film moves over to Mifune, sort of reintroducing him (without Shimura’s judgment). It’s beautifully executed, as is everything else in the film.
Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Uekusa Keinosuke and Kurosawa; director of photography, Itô Takeo; edited by Kôno Akikazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.
Starring Shimura Takashi (Sanada), Mifune Toshirô (Matsunaga), Yamamoto Reizaburô (Okada), Kogure Michiyo (Nanae), Nakakita Chieko (Miyo), Shindô Eitarô (Takahama), Sengoku Noriko (Gin), Kasagi Shizuko (Singer), Shimizu Masao (Oyabun) and Kuga Yoshiko (Schoolgirl).