This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series '25 Films by Akira Kurosawa'

Not the 1st Kurosawa film i’ve seen that involves a gruff, cranky mentor-type physician character: Dr. Shimura in “Drunken Angel” and Dr. Niide in “Red Beard.” Maybe i’ll persuade Andy to re-watch “Red Beard” next (we saw it years and years ago) out of our Kurosawa box set so i can better compare.  Are doctors always grumpy in Kurosawa?  If so, why?

Anyway.  I’m not going to talk about the depiction of doctors in Kurosawa in this “Drunken Angel” write-up.  I’m going to write about class issues.


But 1st, a few other general observations.  There are a lot of interesting aspects to “Drunken Angel” that are worth thinking about:

  • I’m interested in how almost the entire movie takes place in the confines of a small neighborhood crammed between a bubbling (no, literally — it bubbles ominously) pool of water and railroad tracks.  Pretty interesting that the setting is bounded by a huge symbol for poverty and stagnation and a symbol for escape.
  • The one time the film actually departs from the close-in setting — when Dr. Shimura gets a ride from one of his physician colleagues — is the turning point when we realize that Matsunaga has taken Shimura’s advice and gone to get x-rays of his lungs.  But then the story returns to the neighborhood and never leaves again, as Matsunaga also returns to his old gangster habits and never leaves the neighborhood again despite the real chance of escape with the shop-woman who’d offered to take him with her to her family’s farm in the country.
  • I’m simultaneously intrigued and disappointed that Miyo’s subplot is never fully resolved.  After learning that the yakuza boss had planned to use Matsunaga as a disposable pawn, did Matsunaga choose to use himself that way to free Miyo from Okada — or did it just turn out that way unintentionally?  How does Miyo feel about Matsunaga dying and Okada being sent to jail?  I just don’t feel it’s fair that she isn’t at all present at the end of the film.

Ultimately, however, what i found most interesting were (yes, i’m sorry) the class issues.  When we see Shimura in the car with his colleague, we realize how good a physician Shimura is and how he’s respected by his colleagues.  Yet his colleague seems to be somewhat affluent whereas Shimura works in a poor, squalid neighborhood in a dingy office and lives in small quarters that he shares with 2 women.  And yet it’s never explored:  Why does Shimura choose to live and work there?  Why is he so dedicated (in his gruff, drunken way) to treating tuberculosis and the poor local people?  During the car ride with his colleague, i got the impression that Shimura was skilled and respected enough to have worked anywhere, so i was left wondering and wondering — why this place? this disease? these people?

Series Navigation‘Stray Dog’ (Kurosawa, Akira. 1949.)‘High and Low’ (Kurosawa, Akira. 1963.)
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