Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by Kurosawa and Keinosuke Uegusa, Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) is the story about an alcoholic doctor who tries to help a yakuza boss suffering from tuberculosis. The film is an exploration into how a man tries to help a much more troubled individual to find redemption just as his old crime boss is returning to their turf. Starring Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, and Reisaburo Yakamoto. Yoidore tenshi is a harrowing yet engrossing film from Akira Kurosawa.
When someone is in trouble and has no one to go to, there is always someone there to try and help out. In this film, it is about a young yakuza boss who runs a small town near a polluted swamp as he finds himself feeling ill. By going to this local doctor, the boss known as Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) learns that he is suffering from tuberculosis as he has no idea how to cope with the news as he continues to drink and party against the doctor’s orders. Adding to Matsunaga’s troubles is the return of his old crime boss Okada (Reisaburo Yakamoto) who regains his position as yakuza head while trying to pursue the doctor’s young nurse whom she was once an acquaintance of his. With his illness worsening where Okada would take advantage of that for his own gain, it would allow Matsunaga to try and gain some redemption.
The screenplay by Akira Kurosawa and Keinosuke Uegusa explores a young man succumbing to illness and how he’s unable to cope with it where he goes into a death wish as he believes there’s no hope for him. Yet, the film begins with Matsunaga going to Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) to treat a bullet would he got on his hand after a fight with a rival gang. Dr. Sanada is a very blunt individual who always has something to say whether people like it or not yet he’s also an alcoholic. Despite Dr. Sanada’s urge to drink and living in a nearby slum with a polluted swamp where he could’ve taken a job at prestigious clinic. He is someone that is eager to help out people no matter how impatient or unruly they can be. In Matsunaga, here is someone Dr. Sanada knows that might die and not seem to care about it. At first, the two men don’t seem to need each other but Matsunaga’s illness worsens while Dr. Sanada starts to become increasingly concerned.
While there are elements of film noir in not just its setting but also in some of the dialogue that Kurosawa and Uegusa writes as it features some very crass language where characters call themselves “assholes” and “bitch” to each other. It’s mostly a drama about a man dealing with his own demons and trying to find redemption in the harsh world of crime that he’s been in for years. The film’s third act is about Okada’s return and how he manages to take over this small town that he used to run where the locals shun Matsunaga. Only Dr. Sanada would take him in as he would face off against Okada to protect his nurse while Matsunaga tries to intervene. A face-off between Matsunaga and Okada does eventually happen as it is more about Matsunaga seeking redemption for his wrongdoings.
Kurosawa’s direction is very stylish for the way he presents the film as a lot of it’s nighttime scenes are very eerie while there’s plaintive guitar music playing in the background to establish a landscape that is quite drab and filled with mosquitoes. It’s all part of Kurosawa’s approach to film noir although it’s a much more different film as he maintains some intimacy in his framing and how he places actors into the frame. The direction is also quite satirical in some respects as it is set in post-war Japan where young Japanese are in an area where there’s people living in a state of decadence unaware of some of the dreariness in their environment that includes this polluted swamp. While Matsunaga used to be a man that runs this dreary yet active slum where he can get a drink for free or take a flower. All of that changes once Okada returns where he makes his return by playing the guitar to a song from his past.
The direction also contains that air of death as it does loom in the film since it relates to Matsunaga’s deteriorating condition that includes a chilling dream sequence. It’s definitely a sequence that really plays to the sense of terror that Matsunaga is facing if he doesn’t stray from his self-destructive behavior as it does play into the third act. The confrontation between Matsunaga and Okada is quite elaborate not just in its suspense and action but also what Matsunaga is trying to gain in this eventual fight. Yet, the aftermath is quite somber as it returns to Dr. Sanada and his view of how everything had happened. Overall, Kurosawa creates a truly engaging yet haunting film about redemption and death.
Cinematographer Takeo Ito does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to set a chilling atmosphere for the scenes at night with some lighting schemes by Kinzo Yoshizawa while the daytime interior and exterior scenes are presented in a more natural setting. Editor Akikazu Kono does excellent work with the editing as it‘s very stylized from its use of wipes and dissolves for transitions along with rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s dramatic moments. Production designer Takashi Matsuyama does terrific work with the look of the town from the polluted swamp to the bar that Dr. Sanada and Matsunaga frequent to.
The sound work of Wataru Konuma is wonderful for the atmosphere it creates from the intimate moments at Dr. Sanada‘s home to the bars and dance halls Matsunaga goes to. The film’s music by Ryoichi Hattori and Fumio Hayasaka is amazing for its somber yet lush orchestral music to capture the drama along with the plaintive classical guitar to set the mood along with some upbeat jazz music for the scenes in the dance halls.
The film’s cast is superb as it features some notable small roles from Eitaro Shindo as the bar waitress Takahama, Michiyo Kogure as Matsunaga’s girlfriend Nanae, and Chieko Nakakita as the nurse who assists Dr. Sanada. Reisaburo Yamamoto is excellent as just-released crime boss Okada who decides to take control of the town and take advantage of Matsunaga’s illness. Takashi Shimura is brilliant as Dr. Sanada as a man who is quite helpful to the people around him despite his reputation as an alcoholic as he tries to help out Matsunaga while being very upfront with him about his condition. Finally, there’s Toshiro Mifune in an incredible performance as the yakuza boss Matsunaga as Mifune brings a true sense of power to his role as a man who means business but also a chilling vulnerability over the fact that he’s facing death as it’s definitely a real breakthrough for Mifune early in his career.
Yoidore Tenshi is a marvelous film from Akira Kurosawa that features phenomenal performances from Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. The film is definitely one of Kurosawa’s early triumphs in the way he explores humanity at its most troubled as well as setting it in a noir presentation. It’s also a film that unveils the beginning one of the great director-actor collaborations in Kurosawa and Mifune where the film serves as a breakthrough for the legendary Japanese actor. In the end, Yoidore Tenshi is a remarkable film from Akira Kurosawa.
Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Pt. 2) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail) - No Regrets for Our Youth - (Those Who Make Tomorrow) - (One Wonderful Sunday) - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - (Dersu Uzala) - Kagemusha - Ran - (Dreams) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)
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