Drunken Angel (1948)


Drunken Angel is one of the most important of Kurosawa's films for several reasons. It was the first film that Kurosawa had complete control over. From start to finish, Kurosawa, not the studio, was calling the shots.

It was the first film that Kurosawa would work with film composer Fumio Hayasaka. Hayasaka would work on all of Kurosawa's next films, until his death in 1955.

Perhaps most important of all, this was the first Kurosawa film to feature Toshiro Mifune.

Toshiro Mifune is arguably Japan's most famous actor if not of all time then certainly of the period between 1950-1980.

It is somewhat ironic that Mifune would come to be Japan's most well known and respected actors, given he never wanted to be an actor in the first place, and he didn't set foot on Japanese soil until he was 19.

Mifune was born in Qingdao, China in April of 1920. His Japanese parents lived in the Japanese occupied town of Dalian, making Mifune a Japanese citizen. He worked in his father's photography shop until he was drafted into the Japanese military.

Because he had experience working with photography equipment, Mifune was given the job of an aerial photographer.

When Mifune got out of the army, a friend who worked at Toho told him he would get Mifune a job as a cameraman.

Somehow Mifune found ended up auditioning for a job as an actor (again, a job Toho was desperately looking to fill).

In the audition the potential actors drew cards with different emotions written on them that the actors were to act out.

Mifune pulled anger.

Kurosawa details in his autobiography his experience with seeing Mifune's audition. When Kurosawa entered the room where Mifune's audition was taking place, he saw Mifune reeling around the room.

When Mifune sat down in the chair before the judges, he kept a very stern look on his face. The judges took this to be a sign of disrespect.

Mifune was hired nonetheless. There is a bit of mystery surrounding why he was hired. Kurosawa claims that his mentor and head of the judging panel, Kajiro Yamamoto stood up and took responsibility for Mifune. Mifune himself, in an interview for a Japanese television show he did in the 1980s, said that he knew nothing about that.

For Mifune's first few films he was type-cast as a gangster, a role Kurosawa would soon break for him, but not with Drunken Angel.


Drunken Angel is the second film that Kurosawa wrote with Keinosuke Uekusa.

The film revolves around a doctor and gang member who live in a run-down Japanese town.

Kurosawa and Uekusa initially had trouble writing the film because their doctor was too perfect. When they came up with the idea for the doctor to be an alcoholic, suddently the story began to flow.

The Yakuza gangster Matsunaga, played by Toshiro Mifune, seeks out the help of the town's cynical alcoholic physician.

Doctor Sanada, played by Takashi Shimura, first removes a bullet from the hand of Matsunaga, before testing him for TB. Sanada suspects that Matsunaga is infected, but despite his unsympathetic attitude toward gangsters, he urges him to get an X-ray.

Matsunaga, an alcoholic himself, eventually gets the X-ray and his TB is confirmed. Just when he is beginning to start his treatment, the man who once held Matsunaga's position within the Yakuza returns from prison.

Okada begins to seize power again by stealing Matsunaga's territory and his girl. He also begins to threaten the doctor, asking him to return the doctor's nurse who was formally under Okada's control.

Matsunaga, seeking to protect the doctor and nurse who had been looking out for him, goes to Okada to confront him. A fight ensues and Matsunaga is killed.


A major part of the town, and an important element to the film, is the swamp at the center of the town.

The characters in the film are frequently shown walking around it, staring into it, or throwing something into it. This swamp becomes both a literal and metophorical reflection of both the characters and the town itself.

Matsunaga twice goes to the swamp, first after he initially gives up drinking in order to rid himself of his TB. He carries with him a flower, a sign of life, that he then casts into the putrid water when Okada finds him and tells him to have a drink with him.

The second time he returns he is staring into the water, looking at a child's doll lying face down in the water. Matsunaga himself has almost been completely destroyed by his disease. The imagery here is not so subtle. Matsunaga sees himself in the doll.

This is where a particularly rare and interesting sequence begins. Matsunaga has a dream. In a sequence similar to that of Kurosawa's 1980 film Kagemusha, Matsunaga runs to a beached coffin and begins to cut it open with an axe. When he opens it he finds himself. The Matsunaga in the coffin begins to chase him down the beach.

Death is coming for him, not only in his dreams, but in real life as well, as Matsunaga is quickly succumbing to his disease.

Like One Wonderful Sunday, Drunken Angel contains elements both critical of the West, and favoring it (possibly only to appease the occupation censors).

This town is an example of what has become of the poor in Japan after the war. The town is run by gangsters. These gangters wear Western clothing, listen to Western music in their Western cabaret's, and they even talk like Westerners.

The newly freed Okada perfectly reflects the changes in society from pre-war to post-war Japan. When we first see him, he is wearing traditional Japanese clothing.

"Things have certainly changed around here," he says to a guitar player who frequently plays near the swamp.

When we next see him he is dressed in Western clothing, and almost instantaniously transforms himself into a modern Japanese gangster.

Despite this negative attitude about what a Western influence has done to Japan, Kurosawa includes pro-American sentiments sparatically throughout the film.

The most obvious of these moments is when Doctor Sanada is confronted by Okada. Sanada tells him his feudalistic ways won't fly anymore, and asks if he has ever heard of something called equality.

Like One Wonderful Sunday, Kurosawa attempts an experiment in this film. Far from the risky experiment he tried in his previous film, this one Kurosawa would use in films for years to come, most notably in his next film, Stray Dog.

The experiment was a musical one called counterpoint. Normally in film music, the soundtrack will match whatever mood the scene is conjuring up visually. If it is a sad scene, there is sad music, if it is a happy one, there is happy music, and so on.

With counterpoint, Kurosawa and his composer Fumio Hayasaka went the opposite way. In a scene when Matsunaga is completely downtrodden, with no money or power, he walks along the busy streets of the "Happy Market" towards the city swamp.

All along the loudspeaker in the marketplace is playing "The Cuckoo Waltz". It is an incredibly happy song, one that only emphasizes Matsunaga's pain. The effect is incredibly successful, and is later repeated during the fight between Matsunaga and Okada.

Matsunaga's character is an interesting one. It would be easy for an audience member not to connect with this man who has all the ability to rid himself of his disease if he only kept with it. But because of Mifune's energetic and stimulating portrayel, one can't help but root for him despite his vices.

The same could be said of Doctor Sanada. Although he is, deep down, a good man, he is also very hypocritical. He often finds himself lecturing people about their health, when he himself is constantly drinking. He even goes so far as to dilute the alcohol that he uses on his patients.

Finally, Kurosawa ends the film as he does with many, with that bit of humanist optimism. A TB infected teenage girl who was seen by the doctor at the beginning of the film has returned to report that she has been cured.

Kurosawa shows us that there is hope, and not everyone turns out like Matsunaga. The doctor sums this up perfectly when, after the girl repeats what the doctor told her about approaching TB rationally.

"A rational approach is the best medicine for life," the doctor says.

One Wonderful Sunday (1947)


After the core group of Toho Studios actors left Toho to form their own studio Shin (New) Toho, the directors who remained behind were tasked with producing films that would combat the new star-studded production company.

Kurosawa was sent to work on three scripts, one of which he would direct. That film was One Wonderful Sunday.

After completing one whole script with Senkichi Taniguchi and writing one part of a four-part film, Kurosawa began his work on One Wonderful Sunday.

This would be the first of two consecutive films he would write with his childhood friend Keinosuke Uekusa, who he happened to run into while he working as an assistant director on a film Uekusa was working on as an extra.

Because all of Toho's former stars went off to form their new company, Toho was left with a problem. They had very few actors, and they were largely unknown.

This problem would be remedied by a talent search. This casting call would prove to be a godsend for Kurosawa, but this will be discussed further in his next film, Drunken Angel.


The story of One Wonderful Sunday is rather simple. Isao Numazaki and Chieko Nakakita play Yuzo and Masako, a couple who spend a Sunday traversing post-war Tokyo with only 35 yen.

They tour a house they could never afford, then an apartment that is almost unlivable according to a former tenant.

In the beginning Yuzo is the realist while Masako is the dreamer. Masako dreams of a lavish home and a coffee shop of their own.

"Dreams won't fill your belly," Yuzo says.

Yuzo, a veteran of the war, plays a game of baseball with a group of children before they go to a cabaret to try to find a friend of Yuzo's.

They visit the local zoo before trying to get into a concert of Shubert's Unfinished Symphony, only to find that the cheap tickets are sold out.

Depressed, they return to Yuzo's where he has somewhat of a breakdown. After he calms down a bit they go out for coffee, only to learn that they have been charged 30 yen when they have only 20 remaining.

Things finally begin to look up when they travel to a ruined part of Tokyo and begin to create an imaginary coffee shop before being jolted back to reality by a group of onlookers.

Finally, in the films climactic scene they return to an empty amphitheater where Yuzo conducts an invisible orchestra playing Shubert's Unfinished Symphony.


One Wonderful Sunday is perhaps less a film about two middle-class lovers strolling about Tokyo than it is a look at post-war Tokyo. Yuzo and Masako are merely our tour guides.

Shot largely on location in Tokyo, the film resembles the neo-realist cinema of the Italians in the late 40s and 50s. Those films and this one are focused on very real life situations and people.

One Wonderful Sunday falls under the category of shomin-geki, a term which means "common-man film". Yasujiro Ozu is probably Japan's most ardent supporter of this particular category of films, as they are normally associated with family dramas.

The actors, when filmed from afar are almost indistinguishable from the rest of the public.

Kurosawa often used hidden cameras to obtain candid shots of the actors. In his autobiography he even details an instance when a man positioned himself in front of a hidden camera. When Kurosawa attempted to nudge him out of the way, the man put up his hands and took out his wallet. He assumed Kurosawa was a pickpocket.

While Kurosawa's portrayel of post-war Japan in this film is not as pessimistic as will be seen in his 1949 film Stray Dog, it is nonetheless critical of the Western influence that pervaded after the war.

Almost everyone in the film can be seen wearing Western clothing. Yuzo plays baseball, a Western sport, with "Twinkle-twinkle Little Star", a Western song, playing on the soundtrack.

The signage for the cabaret and coffee shop, among other things, are printed in English.

Even the cabaret itself is a Western influence. The loud Western music that floods the soundtrack will be explored again in Kurosawa's next film.

The post-war atmosphere in Japan created a larger gap between classes, as is evident in this film.

Money was scarce, and many took to the black market. The film establishes an important dichotomy; those who succumb to the black market to obtain money and those who earn an honest living.

This dichotomy is tied into the traditional upper and lower classes, as the film makes it seem like the only way out of the lower classes is through the black market. Any other method would be an exercise in futility.

Children are always an excellent way to garner an emotional response from the audience. In this film, a homeless boy asks Masako for her rice ball. After the couple begins to question the boy, he responds by telling them to just worry about themselves.

The audience first sees him as a train whistle blows, his figure is slowly revealed from behind the smoke of the train. His face and clothing filthy from dozens or even hundreds of passing trains.

The boy is clearly aware of his situation, and is a stark reminder of the stagnation that must have been felt among the lower class at the time.

One of the most interesting examples of the class definition comes during the zoo scene. Yuzo and Masako visit several animals and along the way give the various animals human traits.

"The world is run by pigs," Yuzo says.

"What a happy couple," Masako says.
"That's because they can sleep in the water," replies Yuzo.

"What fine coats," Yuzo says.

"What a life, being able to survive on paper," Masako says.

Yuzo says the monkeys act like humans are the show.

The final shot goes along with the monkey remark, as Kurosawa cleverly shoots the couple from behind a fence, making it look like they are the ones who are imprisoned, which indeed they are in their own way.

Like many of Kurosawa's earlier films, it seems as though he is trying to make more of a social statement than a humanist statement.

Even Kurosawa's left-leaning ideology is expounded by the characters when they talk of opening a cafe for the masses.

But in the end the humanist side does come out. Kurosawa ends this film with a sort of bittersweet optimism. Yuzo has his faith restored in the dream they share, and they hear the music of the Unfinished Symphony.

"See you next Sunday," Masako says to Yuzo as she boards her train back home. This represents a solemn reminder that the events of this film could happen anyday and to anyone.

Kurosawa often deals with a sort of "life goes on, everything repeats itself" sort of theme, and this film's ending is an excellent example of it.

Finally, a discussion of this film would not be complete without talking about Kurosawa's daring experiment.

In the scene at the empty amphitheater, Yuzo struggles to find it within himself to hear the music of Shubert's Unfinished Symphony.

Desperate to raise his hopes Masako turns and addresses the camera directly.

Breaking the "fourth wall" Masako pleads to the audience to clap their hands, believing if they do the couple will surely hear the music.

Kurosawa's films already have a fair amount of audience participation in the form of simply getting lost in the story. It was his intention to enhance this participation with the audience with this experiment.

In his book he says the experiment ultimately failed in Japan, where audiences stook stark still in the theater. Upon its subsequent release in Paris the experiment was incredibly successful and garnered exactly the response Kurosawa was hoping for.

No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)


No Regrets for Our Youth
was Kurosawa's fifth film, and his first after the end of World War II. The end of the war was a bit of a godsend for Kurosawa, who during the war produced films that were subjected to the utmost scrutiny by the nationalistic Japanese censors.

New censors from the American occupation force would come in to replace the strict Japanese. Although these censors would be far more lenient than the Japanese, they would be quick to deny the release of any film that showed any sort of anti-American sentiment.

No Regrets is an interesting film among Kurosawa's repertoire due to its strong female lead character. Kurosawa's films generally don't feature women in the main role unlike the films of another Japanese great Kenji Mizoguchi.

"Women simply aren't my specialty," Kurosawa once remarked to the legendary Japanese film scholar Donald Richie.

Kurosawa states in his autobiography that the title of the film was born out of the popular post-war phrase in newspapers, "No regrets for our ---".

The film suffered from two setbacks during production. First, against Kurosawa's will the script was re-written because another script was submitted based on the same story. Second, there was a strike at Toho Studios where the film was being made.


No Regrets for Our Youth stars one of Japan's most famous actresses and favorite of the director Yasujiro Ozu, Setsuko Hara. Hara plays the lead role of Yukie, the daughter of a Kyoto University professor who was relieved of his job.

The film takes place over a period of 10 years, beginning in 1933. The film progresses from 1933, to 1938 and then finally to 1941 to the end of the film. These sections act as separate acts within the story, a storytelling technique Kurosawa was fond of.

The first act deals more with the social problem aspect of the picture. The students, in their anger over the loss of academic freedom and rise of an expansionist government, take to the street and riot. The students are eventually stopped by the police and the riots stop.

This is the point in the film where the story of Yukie and the two men with whom she is choosing between starts to come to the forefront.

Itokawa, driven by his family duty, sheds his activist ways and pursues his education again while Noge, the stronger-willed of the two is arrested for his work.

In 1938 Yukie is 25 and still living at home, but she has become restless. Yukie's father has begun to give free legal advice. When Itokawa brings a newly freed Noge back to visit Yukie, old feelings are again brought up in her.

After they leave Yukie resolves to move to Tokyo. This is where the film jumps another few years up to 1941. Yukie has begun working in Tokyo when she happens to run into Itokawa who tells her Noge is now working and living in Tokyo as an activist against the government.

Yukie is reluctant to see Noge but he eventually finds her sulking in front of his workplace. After a discussion of the dangers of Noge's work they decide to wed.

Noge is eventually ambushed by police and eventually dies in his cell before his trial can take place.

A distraught Yukie decides it is her duty to go to Noge's parents. His parents have been leading a life in solitude, going out in the night to do their work for fear they will be chastized over what their son has done.

Yukie begins to work in the fields with Noge's mother where they eventually bond. After the war Yukie chooses to remain in the village with Noge's parents, seeing herself as an activist within the community.

Yukie's father is reinstated at the university as well, and makes a call to the students to remember what Noge has done.


Even with the problems that the picture suffered during production, the film still conveys a powerful message.

Visually the film does not stand out among Kurosawa's work, but there are glipses of shots and style that Kurosawa would use in later pictures.

One example is during the first act when the students are rioted. The audience is presented with a montage of students taking to the streets mixed with shots of newspaper headlines that Kurosawa would later employ in his 1960 film The Bad Sleep Well.

Kurosawa also uses some not so subtle symbolism in No Regrets as well. While Yukie is learning flower arrangement in Tokyo she suddenly plugs all of the flowers from her bowl and begins to tear off three pedals representing herself, Itokawa and Noge. She proceeds to throw these pedals into the bowl, saying that the previous arrangement wasn't a true showing of her expression.

Also, when Yukie is pleading with Noge's parents to stay with them and work, a high angle shot of Yukie's hands is superimposed with a similarly angled shot of two farming tools with finger-like claws.

Another example of this superimposition technique that began with the French Impressionist film movement occurs when Yukie is interrogated and subsequently imprisoned. While she is sitting in her cell, a clock pendulum is superimposed sweeping accross the frame, intensyfying the time going by.

One more sequence shows Yukie's emotions represented through this technique. When she is conflicted about whather or not to see Noge when Itokawa brings him to visit she is shown either gripping a door handle or pressing herself against a door.

The use of this technique may have come out of Kurosawa's love of silent films. In the silents, it was almost always only the visuals that could be used to convey emotions. Kurosawa would later explore his love of silent film in Rashomon.

Another important technique in conveying emotion is music. Music would become much more important to Kurosawa a few films after No Regrets. In No Regrets the music works as film music does in most other films, merely to add an emotional note to a film or to punctuate a scene.

This is true for the non-diegetic (soundtrack) but not always for the diegetic (music played in the film world). For example, when Yukie plays the piano, she plays what she feels. The first time she plays she is expressing her anger over the situation with the students and her father. The second time she plays a sad song that turns angry, showing her confliction. Finally, in one of the last scenes, she looks down at her hands she comments on how they are no longer fit for the piano, they are merely workers hands now.

Transformation is another main theme of the film. With the passage of time, Yukie and others begin to change.

"People change a lot in five years," Itokawa says before telling Yukie she is becoming more ladylike. Yukie does go through numerous physical and emotional transformations throughout the film.

Yukie certainly does what Noge told her she needed to do in the beginning of the film, which is to grow up.

When they finally do marry and begin to live in a home of their own, Kurosawa shows several shots of flowers, signaling a re-birth in their lives.

Kurosawa is quick to point out that not all is well in their lives, as he presents several scenes of Yukie breaking down while sewing a kimono for Noge and watching a funny movie in a theater.

The American censors must have loved this film. Its themes of winning freedom of speech and expression must have certainly resonated with their goals for the newly occupied country.

While many of the characters' personas are not set in stone throughout the movie, the wartime Japanese government and police force are portrayed as the lowest of the low.

The latter is represented by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura as the police chief who takes pleasure in delivering what he calls "good news" about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Although the film moves from the social to the more Kurosawa-like humanistic side by focusing on Yukie, the message of freedom from opression is still clear in the end.

This is opitimized in the titles before the final scenes that say, "The war is lost but freedom is restored."

There is another message that is more important for Kurosawa in this picture, however. That one is contained within the title. Several times in the movie Yukie and Noge discuss how they have no regrets. Noge even has a saying, "No regrets in my life."

Throughout the film Yukie continues to forge on, never looking back. She too has no regrets. When Itokawa comes to visit Yukie at Noge's parents' home he tells Yukie that Noge went down the wrong path, a claim that angers Yukie who promptly defends Noge and sends Itokawa away.

In the end Yukie takes on a tremendous sense of duty. A duty not only to her dead husband, but to his family and their community. Even though she has done her duty by staying with his family, she resigns to remain with them.

In one of the final shots Yukie stands at the edge of the water surrounding the mountain that she visited at the beginning of the film. She stands solemly, looking out over the water, before boarding a truck back to the village.

She sends the message that through perseverance and duty you can overcome hardships and obtain freedom. But in the end, with Yukie bonded to the village and family that she has sworn to serve, is she really free?

Kurosawa never says more than that the last 20 minutes of the film were what was re-written, but perhaps this was the contradiction he was seeking to avoid.