Drunken Angel (Yoidore Tenshi) is a full-length Japanese film that was created by one of Japan’s most well-known directors: Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa is known for such amazing Japanese movies as The Bad Sleep Well, Rashomon and Seven Samurai. He has a way of putting humanity into any movie he makes, and none of his movies have ever been called “bad”. Drunken Angel is notable because it is the first tie Kurosawa works with Toshirō Mifune. Mifune and Kurosawa work together in quite a few of Kurosawa’s films. It is arguably because of Kurosawa that Mifune became one of Japan’s greatest actors. Mifune is also easily recognizable to Western audiences, which is an achievement for any Japanese actor.
Doctor Sanada is a kind, well-meaning alcoholic doctor. One of his few firm, hostile beliefs is that he will not help any members of the mob. He tried to help a mob member early on in his career and was hurt by it, so he tends to stay away from them. Along comes Matsunaga, a gang member with a gun shot wound. Reluctantly Sanada takes care of Matsunaga. It is during his care-taking that Sanada discovers that Matsunaga has tuberculosis. He finally wears Matsunaga down and convinces him to begin treatment to stop the tuberculosis from killing him. The two become friends until Matsunaga’s former boss is released from jail.
His boss has plans of starting up the business again and needs Matsunaga to do it. Matsunaga eventually agrees and stops following all of the doctor’s medical orders. Eager to please his new boss, Matsunaga introduces him to his new girlfriend, Nanou. Things go downhill for Matsunaga as he is betrayed by his girlfriend, and forced to choose between helping a friend, or saving his own life.
It is said that Kurosawa believed that Drunken Angel was the first film he was able to create without the government jumping in and making him adjust things. It exposed people to the dark side of Japan, including the mobs and mafia wars, and introduced them to heroes that really weren’t.
Drunken Angel is also where Kurosawa makes the first noted use of his silence technique. In many Kurosawa movies, he has long, quiet cuts. It can be easy to believe that those cuts are a mistake in the film, but Kurosawa allowed for no mistakes in his films. The quietness is meant to bring drama and tension to the scene, and always manages to do so.
Drunken Angel is also one of the first movies to really comment on what post-war Japan was really like. Most movie makers handled the situation with kid gloves or refused to comment on it. Kurosawa took the situation head on and said things in his films that others want to say, but did not dare to.