Entertainment Weekly - 06/23/2000
"...A small gangster/neorealist masterpiece..." -- Rating: A-
USA Today - 07/07/2000
"...One of Akira Kurosawa's early significant movies....The director reaps a lot of atmosphere here shooting in muddy street settings..."
Uncut - 10/01/2005
"Kurosawa's noirish melodrama has a lyricism and depth his epics don't always achieve."
Sight and Sound - 10/01/2005
"With its central image of a thick, toxic pond, the film makes potent use of disease as a metaphor for the state of post-war Japan."
In this classic film noir, set in postwar Japan, Toshir˘ Mifune plays Matsunaga, a tough small-time gangster who takes a bullet during a fight in the slums of Tokyo. He makes his way to the office of Sanada (Takashi Shimura), a disillusioned yet passionate doctor, who treats the wound and, in the process, discovers Matsunaga has an even bigger ailment--tuberculosis. As Sanada hounds Matsunaga into dealing with his disease, the alcoholic physician and the arrogant thug form an uneasy friendship. Meanwhile, Matsunaga's mobster boss, Okada (Reisaburo Yamamoto), is released from prison with aspirations of rejuvenating his rough-and-tumble crew. Once Matsunaga is discovered ill, he's excluded from the gang, leaving him shunned by his peers with a seriously bruised ego. In an act of vengeance, he confronts Okada, leading to a violent standoff that only one man will survive.
DRUNKEN ANGEL marks the first major screen role for Mifune, one of Japan's most revered actors. And although Kurosawa had made numerous movies before this production, the director himself recognized it as his first truly distinct and personally satisfying motion picture. Kurosawa skillfully sets the tone by focusing on the seedy elements of the surroundings, and, even more importantly, he lets Mifune run wild as his character simultaneously locks horns with and befriends Shimura's frustrated doctor. In fact, the terrific onscreen rapport between the two actors would later become even more apparent in other Kurosawa films, particularly STRAY DOG and SEVEN SAMURAI. However, the most significant element of DRUNKEN ANGEL is its initial collaboration between Mifune and Kurosawa, arguably the greatest actor-director pairing in cinema history. The fiery yet versatile actor and the master storyteller would go on to make fifteen more remarkable films together.