Sunday, July 03, 2011

Drunken Angel

Drunken Angel is a 1948 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is notable for being the first of sixteen film collaborations between director Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.

While looking for an actor to play Matsunaga, Kurosawa was told by one of the casting directors about Mifune, who was auditioning for another movie where he had to play an angry character. Kurosawa watched Mifune do this audition, and was so amazed by Mifune that he cast him as Matsunaga. On the film's Criterion Collection DVD, Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie comments that Kurosawa was impressed by the athletic agility and "cat-like" moves of Mifune, which also had bearing in his casting.

Censorship issues in Drunken Angel are covered extensively in the supplemental documentary to the Criterion Collection DVD by Danish film scholar Lars-Martin Sorensen, entitled Kurosawa and the Censors, available on The Criterion Collection DVD release of the film. Produced and released during the American occupation in Japan, the Drunken Angel screenplay had to comply with a censorship board issued by the U.S. government. The board did not allow criticism of the occupation to be shown in Japanese films at that time.

Kurosawa slipped several references to the occupation, all of them negative, past the censors. The opening scene of the film features unlicensed prostitutes known as "pan pan" girls, who catered to American soldiers. The gangsters and their girlfriends all wear Westernized clothing and hairstyles. Kurosawa was not allowed to show a burned-out building in his black-market slum set, but he did heavily feature the poisonous bog at the center of the district. English-language signage was also not allowed, but the markets on set have several examples of English usage on their signs. The dance scene in the nightclub features an original composition ("Jungle Boogie", sung by Shizuko Kasagi) with lyrics by Kurosawa, satirizing American jazz music.[3] The censorship board was unable to catch these breaches due to overwork and understaffing.

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