Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010: A Kurosawa/Mifune Double Bill

Besides being the first two films where Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa paired up as the epic actor/director duo they're known for, Drunken Angel and Stray Dog have a bunch of really interesting themes in common. One being the underlying parallels between the protagonists and the darker characters in the films. The whole reflective personality thing can sometimes get tiring, but Kurosawa's style makes it refreshing and intriguing to follow. He's not predictable, which I love.

#67. Drunken Angel (1948)

This was the first of many awesome collaborations between the aforementioned men, and though it wasn't astounding there was definitely a hint of what would come. Mifune plays a feisty young Yakuza who requires a doctor after refusing to deal with his health issues; the doctor, who's temper is just as spirited (in both senses of the word) is an excellent match for Mifune's childish hotshot. I love the juxtaposition of these two, it makes the film's title more ambiguous. Does the doctor save the gangster, or is the other way around? I also love the way Kurosawa reflects the filthy, crime-ridden streets of the city in the polluted pool of water across from the doctor's office. In one particularly poetic shot, a small doll is seen floating in the oily, black water; I like to think it's Kurosawa's way of showing a fragment of hope in a seemingly hopeless setting.

#68. Stray Dog (1949)

Of these two, Stray Dog is definitely my favourite. Mifune is young, vibrant and really stepping into his dark and captivating charm. He plays Det. Murakami, a rookie cop desperately searching for his stolen gun in an attempt to stop the killings being committed with it. Along side him is the calm, almost slothful Det. Sato, whose attitude is almost his complete opposite. Yet, the most interesting juxtaposition in this film is that between Murakami and the man who wields his gun. We feel connected to it and the murderer, as if it was still attached to Mifune's character. I'm pretty sure Marshall McLuhan would've had a field day. As the killings become more and more frequent, Murakami's desire to find the murderer turns frantic. The similarities between the two men are divided only by Sato's wise words, "A stray dog becomes a mad dog." Both Murakami and the killer were soldiers, but upon returning home Murakami attached himself to a stable life, whereas the other man had nothing to hold him down from the chaos that was war. The film's cinematography is brilliant, at times reflecting the themes better than the story itself. If I wasn't half asleep, I'd write another paragraph or two about its genius, but at the moment all I can say is that this is definitely among my favourite Kurosawa films.

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