Last Sunday Noir City's world tour stopped in Japan, for a look at the post-WWII world through the eyes of the vanquished, courtesy of Akira Kurosawa (before his samurai phase.) These movies, while set in post-war Japan are careful to avoid any mention of the American occupation. These are stories about the plight of the little people in Japan, not about the "bigger" issues of occupation and rebuilding after the war. They also feature the team of Kurosawa's all-stars Takashi Shimura and Toshirô Mifune.
DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948): Shimura plays the titular drunk--a doctor named Sanada. Mifune (in his first role for Kurosawa) plays a young yakuza named Matsunaga. He visits the Sanada to get his injured hand looked at. After Sanada takes out the bullet he also listens to Matsunaga's cough and suspects he has TB. This leads to a strained friendship with Sanada desperately trying to save Matsunaga's life. While it's easy to make comparisons to the larger world (the doctor driven to drink over the hopelessness of trying to save humanity when humanity clearly just wants to destroy itself,) Kurosawa keeps this a very personal story. And when Matsunaga's yakuza boss gets out of prison, things go from strained to deadly as he ignores the doctor's advice and faces a fight to the death. But lest you think it's all bleak, Kurosawa is always (in my opinion) a bit of an optimistic humanist. While one patient is lost, he has another star patient--a young girl who is treating her TB well and recovering nicely. That's enough to keep the old drunk doctor moving along.
STRAY DOG (1949): This time Shimura plays veteran cop Sato to Mifune's rookie cop Murakami. In the opening scene, we see how a hot day, a crowded bus, and a pickpocket leave Murakami without his standard issue Colt. And then it's a police procedural (and kind of a police buddy picture) to get his gun back before the criminal who has it ends up killing. Some of it was shot guerilla-style in the actual slums and markets of post-war Tokyo. A thrilling story despite it's slow pace. It builds like the oppressive heat of a Tokyo summer, as both Murakami and the crook he's chasing get increasingly desperate. Just a wonderfully crafted and realized story.
Damn, I wanna go watch a bunch more Kurosawa movies now. There was a time that I tried to see everything he had ever made. There are of course his samurai classics that inspired so many spaghetti westerns (how connected is world cinema?!) But also THRONE OF BLOOD is perhaps my favorite version of MacBeth ever. Or THE HIDDEN FORTRESS which inspired STAR WARS. Or THE BAD SLEEP WELL, I haven't seen that in about a decade. Sigh...
Total Running Time: 224 minutes
My Total Minutes: 348,365