Fumio Hayasaka

Drunken Angel (1948, Kurosawa Akira)

Drunken Angel never hides its sentimentality. The film’s protagonist, an alcoholic doctor working in a slum (Shimura Takashi in a glorious performance), is well aware of his sentimentality. He resents it–Shimura has these great yelling and throwing scenes–but it’s what keeps him going. It also allows director Kurosawa to have intensely sentimental sequences without affecting the tone of the film–sometimes it’s in Hayasaka Fumio’s score, sometimes it’s just how Kurosawa and Kôno Akikazu cut a sequence.

The film’s story has Shimura getting a new patient–Mifune Toshirô’s erratic (similarly hard-drinking) Yakuza neighborhood boss. The two fight, often physically, but form a bond–Mifune’s all subtlety, Shimura’s all noise. When their volumes reverse is when Kurosawa and co-writer Uekusa Keinosuke get in some fantastic character work. Of course, the actors are essential to it. Both of them become clearer and clearer as the film progresses. Even though Drunken Angel has an epical arc to it, it’s very much a character study.

It’s also a setting study–Shimura’s practice is on the edge of a garbage swamp in the slum, Mifune’s favorite night club is just blocks away. In a relatively short run time (under 100 minutes), Kurosawa and Uekusa introduce a large supporting cast, establishing them usually in a few seconds, usually without much dialogue.

As the epical arc goes along its track, the film moves over to Mifune, sort of reintroducing him (without Shimura’s judgment). It’s beautifully executed, as is everything else in the film.



Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Uekusa Keinosuke and Kurosawa; director of photography, Itô Takeo; edited by Kôno Akikazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Shimura Takashi (Sanada), Mifune Toshirô (Matsunaga), Yamamoto Reizaburô (Okada), Kogure Michiyo (Nanae), Nakakita Chieko (Miyo), Shindô Eitarô (Takahama), Sengoku Noriko (Gin), Kasagi Shizuko (Singer), Shimizu Masao (Oyabun) and Kuga Yoshiko (Schoolgirl).

Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Mizoguchi Kenji)

Sansho the Bailiff is one of cinema’s most depressing pieces. I don’t think, after about twenty minutes into the film, there’s a single positive moment. Good things happen–occasionally–but they only lead to bad things (or the revelation of bad things).

The film opens with an epigraph, establishing the time period and some basics. It also implies Sansho is a folk tale and it does follow many of the traditions of (Western) fairy tale. The family of a royal–I’m paraphrasing and summarizing and Westernizing to fit that fairy tale comparison–are forced into slavery, only to have the son escape, rise to the proper position and return to save his family. Thanks to Walt Disney, there’s always room for a little fact-free hopefulness and it helps with Sansho. There are long periods of time without anything positive going on where the fairy tale comparison can keep one’s spirits afloat.

There are other downbeat films, ones even more relentlessly so. Where Sansho is different is in the setting. It’s the most affecting film about slavery I’ve ever seen. But the lack of any positive forces at work–one character even talks about the cruelness of the world and can only offer a monk’s solitude as a suggestion for reprieve–makes the viewing experience singularly rending.

I didn’t know anything about Sansho going in–I thought it was a samurai movie, actually, and Sansho would be the main character (I wondered why he came so late in the opening titles)–which might have amplified the experience for me. Mizoguchi fills the film with beautiful shots, with Miyagawa Kazuo’s outdoor cinematography some of the most exquisite I’ve ever seen, but they’re usually in contrast to the story. Only at the beginning, as the characters walk through a field of tall flowers, does Mizoguchi really let any physical beauty influence the characters. The rest of the film, no one really has any time to appreciate it. In lesser hands, it’d be cynical, but Mizoguchi instead creates an invisible barrier. By the time–following a long introduction sequence at the slave manor–he returns to beautiful scenery, he’s got the viewer so despondent, it’s going to take a lot more than some pretty trees to get him or her vivified.

Technically speaking, the film’s perfect. Mizoguchi fills his frame–and Miyagawa maintains such precise focus–the film feels like it has to be widescreen (it isn’t). The exterior shots don’t just cause this sensation, it’s also the interiors. The way characters talk to each other, move around each other, it’s as though they’re subject to Mizoguchi’s barriers as well. All of them–good and bad–are blissfully ignorant in some way or another. Even the titular Sansho, as villainous as he is, is rendered somewhat absurd as he cows to (much younger) superior.

The acting is all excellent, with Kagawa Kyôko the standout. Hanayagi Yoshiaki, the eventual lead (the son), has some problems starting out, but he eventually comes around–or it’s just the natural progression of the character.

It’s an awkward film to recommend–I imagine seeing it in a theater, with its bleakness julienning the communal film-going experience is a rare experience–but it really is a singular motion picture. I’ve just been writing about it for five hundred or so words and I can’t quite believe I was able to verbalize any part of my response to the film.



Directed by Mizoguchi Kenji; screenplay by Yahiro Fuji and Yoda Yoshikata, based on the story by Mori Ogai; director of photography, Miyagawa Kazuo; edited by Miyata Mitsuzô; music by Hayasaka Fumio, Mochizuki Tamekichi and Odera Kanahichi; production designers, Ito Kisaku and Nakajima Shozaburo; produced by Nagata Masaichi; released by Kadokawa Herald Pictures.

Starring Tanaka Kinuyo (Tamaki), Hanayagi Yoshiaki (Zushiô), Kagawa Kyôko (Anju), Shindô Eitarô (Sanshô), Kôno Akitake (Taro), Shimizu Masao (Masauji Taira), Mitsuda Ken (Prime Minister Fujiwara), Okuni Kazukimi (Norimura), Kosono Yôko (Kohagi), Tachibana Noriko (Namiji), Sugai Ichirô (Minister of Justice), Omi Teruko (Nakagimi), Kato Masahiko (Young Zushiô) and Enami Keiko (Young Anju).

Scandal (1950, Kurosawa Akira)

Scandal presents an incredibly humane side of Kurosawa, one his historical pictures don’t convey. He shows the desperate sadness of people and offers little visible hope throughout. There’s one scene, when the protagonist (played by Mifune Toshirô) and the main character (Shimura Takashi) come across a pond reflecting the stars and Mifune comments about the frequent beauty one finds in daily life. Scandal isn’t so much about those aesthetic moments, rather the type of person who can fully appreciate them. Mifune’s character, a painter, has it a little easier than Shimura, the alcoholic, gambling lawyer, but that scene equalizes them and allows them to communicate.

Mifune kept reminding me of Gregory Peck in this film–maybe because of the pipe (though I don’t think Peck had the pipe until later than 1950). He’s handsome and kind and he’s definitely the protagonist–but he’s not the main character. Or maybe he’s the main character and Shimura is the protagonist. I can’t remember… The Oxford says the main character and the protagonist used to the same, but in the modern sense, there’s room for a main character and a protagonist. In a Kurosawa film of this era, there’s definite room. He’s not as loose as usual with his character emphasis, but again, until forty minutes into the film, I didn’t know who the story was going to track. Shimura is in lots of Kurosawa films (in addition, of course, to Godzilla), but Scandal is his finest work. His role is the fallen character Renoir never could work out and Kurosawa does it instinctively. Instead of using the character sparsely–as the viewer painfully watches him repeatedly fail everyone he cares about–Kurosawa keeps it going, keeps bringing him back, keeps the viewer in as much pain as the character is in… and he or she is just as able to change the character’s behavior as the character is able to do.

Scandal is really early, so Kurosawa hadn’t gone over to scope yet and watching the film, one can see him pushing the frame. I’ve never seen Kurosawa projected and I realized almost immediately, these squarer images were just as breathtaking as his other framings. I suppose it’s one of the drawbacks of letterboxing–you realize what you’re missing by not seeing it in the theater. Since Scandal is so early, since the story is so traditional (a magazine slanders a romantically innocent pair of celebrities), and since Mifune is such a traditional leading man, it’s shocking when Kurosawa breaks the film out of the traditional form. There’s a wonderful scene at the end: on the right side of the frame are the two heroes and their amiable sidekick and on the left is Shimura. Kurosawa keeps it all in focus–Scandal has no relieving close-ups either–and the scene just goes on for a little while. Something about the positioning of the actors while surveying the desperation… in that shot, it is immediately clear how important a storyteller Kurosawa already was and was going to be.

Scandal is, of course, not readily available in the United States. I watched the UK Masters of Cinema DVD release, which–just like the last Masters of Cinema release I watched–had video problems, this time with interlacing. The film was available on VHS in the States, from Criterion’s parent company’s VHS arm, so maybe there’s a nice region 1 edition in the works.

The most pleasant part about Scandal is it gets better as it goes along, constantly building toward its final achievement.



Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Kikushima Ryuzo; director of photography, Ubukata Toshio; music by Hayasaka Fumio; produced by Koide Takashi; released by Shochiku Company.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Aoye Ichirô), Shirley Yamaguchi (Saijo Miyako), Katsuragi Yôko (Hiruta Masako), Sengoku Noriko (Sumie), Ozawa Eitarô (Hori), Shimura Takashi (Attorney Hiruta), Himori Shinichi (Editor Asai) and Shimizu Ichirô (Arai).

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