Archive for takashi shimura

DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Japan, movies with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by goregirl

While I consider myself a fan of director Akira Kurosawa I had not seen many of his early entries. In preparing for this feature I borrowed several Kurosawa films from the library. Three 1940’s titles I had not seen; Stray Dog, No Regrets for Our Youth and Drunken Angel and a few favorites; Yojimbo, Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood. I had no intention of reviewing these favorites; I just wanted to get a sense of how his older films compared to those I was more familiar with. Okay, who am I kidding? All three of these Kurosawa films are worth revisiting on a regular basis! I quite enjoyed both Stray Dog and No Regrets for Our Youth but of the trio Drunken Angel appealed to me the most. It should be noted that Drunken Angel is Toshirô Mifune’s first appearance in a Kurosawa film. The handsome and talented actor would make several more films with the director. However it is another Kurosawa regular that really steals my heart. Takashi Shimura is one of the finest and most likable actors on the planet. He has this wonderful kind face that makes me want to give him a big hug; but he is also immensely talented! To be honest, I have never seen a Kurosawa film I didn’t like. The man is simply a brilliant director. Enthralling stories, wonderful characters, and epic visuals; Kurosawa is truly a master of his craft!

The titular “drunken angel” is Sanada; a doctor in a crime-ridden slum district. He is a caring but blunt and painfully honest man who also happens to have a drinking problem. Low-level Yakuza Matsunaga come to Sanada to have him remove a bullet from his hand. Sanada’s no bullshit delivery and contempt for Yakuza does not sit well with Matsunaga; nor does the news that he has contracted tuberculosis. Despite his attitude Sanada takes pity on the young criminal and the two develop a tumultuous friendship.

Based on this summary you might be expecting a heavy-handed affair. While I certainly would not call Drunken Angel a heart-warming story it does have its share of humorous and light moments. Most of these bits are supplied by Sanada our alcoholic doctor. At one point he turns his nose up at the alcohol-free ice-tea he is served. In protest he creates his own special version of long island ice-tea by mixing it with some rubbing alcohol. Admittedly, the humour included is generally of the ironic type.

Sanada’s advice to Matsunaga is to lay off the drink and the women and get lots of rest. Despite his hard exterior Matsunaga takes the doctors advice to heart and gives up his vices. Complicating matters former Yakuza member Okada is released from prison. To maintain his reputation Matsunaga once more turns to drinking and womanizing. It doesn’t take long before Okada slips right back into his former position and he even steals Matsunaga’s girl Nanae. A further complication involving Sanada’s female assistant; formerly the abused girlfriend of Okada presents itself. Matsunaga feels an obligation to help out the doctor and confronts Okada. In the end, Matsunaga comes to the sad and lonely realization that he is expendable in this world of crime.

Drunken Angel is basically a cautionary tale about the choices we make in life. Not a particularly original idea even in 1948. While the premise may ring familiar the presentation is what makes Drunken Angel shine. The slow but steady pace suits the material and the constant change of scenery keeps things interesting. As mentioned previously Takashi Shimura and Toshirô Mifune are both wonderful talented actors. Mifune and Shimura have great chemistry. Both actors get to play characters that are as fragile as they are intense and the result is electric and extremely watchable. The use of a lone guitar player strumming each evening in the center of the district is magnificent. I was particularly impressed with the scene where Okada fresh out of prison asks to borrow the guitar and plays a favourite tune. A melody that is recognized by his abused ex-girlfriend. Quite a beautiful piece of music to introduce an ugly character. The scenery is effectively bleak and dreary and the ugly sewage pond smack-dab in the center of the district is a constant focal point. It is insinuated that the polluted pond is the cause of the tuberculosis spreading across the district. Children are seen playing in and around the filthy water and it is not difficult to imagine a young Matsunaga growing up here surrounded by black market profiteers and yakuza. There is some action thrown in the mix but it is decidedly secondary to the drama.

The Criterion version I borrowed from the library had an excellent supplement called Kurosawa and the Censors. The film was produced and released during the American occupation of Japan. Filmmakers were not allowed to show anything that could be construed as negative about the occupation. Kurosawa managed to sneak in all sorts of commentary that was subtle enough to be missed by the censors. Makes me appreciate the director that much more! Drunken Angel comes highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Toshirô Mifune, Reisaburô Yamamoto, Michiyo Kogure, Chieko Nakakita, Noriko Sengoku, Shizuko Kasagi, Eitarô Shindô, Masao Shimizu, Taiji Tonoyama, Yoshiko Kuga, Chôko Iida, Ko Ubukata

GODZILLA (1954) & GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Japan, movies with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by goregirl

My final review for Eisenhower and the Horror Movies is a film that is very close to my heart; Ishirô Honda’s 1954 Japanese monster epic Godzilla. The film that would go on to spawn a number of sequels and other successful creature features for Toho Studios. Godzilla was quite literally the first film I ever seen. My parents brought me home from the hospital on a Sunday afternoon and sat holding me in their arms as they watched Godzilla on television. My mom told me that I use to pretend I was Godzilla when I was a toddler making growling noises and stepping on my toys. I don’t remember that to be honest, but Godzilla was certainly a huge part of my childhood. I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that it was my dad who introduced me to horror films. He was passionate about classic horror and I watched tons of it growing up. When I was a kid there was no such thing as VCR’s, DVD players or the internet. You either watched movies on television or at the theatre. They played Godzilla and other Toho Studio monster flicks on television regularly in the 1970’s. I have fond memories of watching these films on rainy Sunday afternoons. I admit, I get a little sentimental when it comes to Godzilla. I watched quite a few creature features over the last two months and while I enjoyed some of these very much; nothing but nothing tops Godzilla.

A fishing boat goes missing off the Coast of Odo Island. A second boat sent to investigate also suffers the same fate. One night Odo Island is hit by a storm that brings with it more than just heavy winds and rain. The Odo Island residents believe the destruction and death was caused by a creature of their folklore called Godzilla. Archeologist Dr. Yamane along with a team is sent to investigate. Dr. Yamane discovers an alarmingly large footprint. Inside the footprint he finds a 3-lobed creature called a trilobite that has long been extinct. Godzilla soon appears, going on a rampage; leaving death and destruction behind. Attempts to destroy Godzilla fail and Japanese officials are desperate. Meanwhile Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko has been keeping a secret that could save the world. Daisuke Serizawa confides to Emiko that he has created a device that could destroy the beast. Serizawa refuses to divulge his discovery to others fearing it would be used for evil. Will the world be destroyed by a two million year old monster?!

Watching all these monster movies in close succession made me realize just how awesome and ground-breaking the effects in Godzilla really were. The action sequences are elaborate, lengthy and numerous. There is so much detail in the models; power lines, boats, cars, dozens of unique buildings constructed only to be smashed. Godzilla is an amazing creature. His menacing size, scaly back, powerful tail, fiery breath and mighty ancient cry cuts an imposing figure. The giant reptilian creature walking away from a city ablaze and in ruins is pretty damn spectacular! The awesome flawless way Godzilla interacts with his environment brings it all to horrifying life! It is awe-inspiring what these filmmakers were able to achieve with a guy in a lizard suit. Apparently the Godzilla suit was quite the nightmare to deal with. They spent a great deal of time and money on the creation of the suit only to discover it was unusable. Godzilla is the centerpiece of the film, so needless to say this was a huge set back. The issue was a person could not move once inside the rigid and heavy costume. They recreated the suit with a lighter material and while there were still issues they made due. The suit was still heavy and the actor would sweat buckets, so he could not stay inside long. They made the best of it and even found a use for the original suit. They cut the legs off and used it for foot smashing close-ups. The effects are remarkable, but that is not the only reason to appreciate Godzilla.

Godzilla also has a story to tell. The opening scene where a boat mysteriously disappears in the ocean is a wonderfully ominous start. Right off the bat we are filled with wonder. The anticipation steadily builds as we move along to that first Godzilla citing. Godzilla is the result of nuclear radiation; a horror experienced first hand by the Japanese in 1945 when The United States dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. There is one particularly intense scene in a hospital overflowing with victims of Godzilla’s rampage. Not only are they injured but some are suffering from radiation poisoning. According to Wikipedia “Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II”. Others embraced Godzilla which was actually one of the most attended Japanese films in the year it was released. Godzilla deservingly won the Japanese Academy Award for best special effects.

I love DVD special features. The DVD I rented had both the original 1954 version of Godzilla and the 1956 made for America/Raymond Burr version. Apparently Godzilla’s Serizawa character was supposed to be an evil scientist type; unsympathetic creepy guy that kept to himself. Instead he is a handsome dude with an eye patch who appears to be on the losing end of a love triangle. Emiko and Serizawa seem to have history but Emiko is in love with Ogata. Serizawa has been particularly secretive as of late so Emiko decides to give him a visit. It turns out Serizawa has created a way to split oxygen atoms into fluids. When the oxygen is disintegrated the living organisms around it die of asphyxiation. He calls it the oxygen destroyer and it has the ability to kill en mass. He has been keeping his discovery secret, fearing it would be used as a weapon. Meanwhile at Counter-Godzilla Headquarters Dr. Yamane is working with officials but would rather study the creature than destroy it. The central characters are really a likeable lot and the actors do a good job of making their interactions natural and believable.

In 1956 Toho reworked Godzilla for American audiences. Godzilla, King of the Monsters is literally the Godzilla 1954 version with Raymond Burr scenes added. Raymond Burr plays an American reporter covering the monster’s activities. I actually found the Burr version a bit painful to watch after the original. The opening sequence has Burr lying on the ground wounded and completely stomps all over the original version’s great early suspense. When watching the two versions back to back it is hard not to notice how poorly executed the added scenes were. There are scenes where Burr is called on to interact with the original film’s characters. They show the back of a look-a-like’s head and dub their voice. The awkward shot concentrates squarely on the back of the head and really draws attention to it. Other times Burr is called on to interact with groups. He sporadically pops up like a mole in that whack-a-mole game behind groups of Asian actors. Finally the dubbing drove me to drink. I am mystified as to why they would not have just dubbed the whole film. They only dub the central characters which was sometimes illogical for the scene. During an excavation scene Dr. Yamane surrounded only by Japanese people speaks to them in English. I understand he might speak English to Burr but why would he speak English in this scenario? Other times they leave the Japanese dialog and Burr narrates over it. I don’t really have a bone to pick with Raymond Burr himself. Burr was okay. There really is no reason to watch this 1956 version when you can watch the original.

I have loved Godzilla my entire life. I have seen Godzilla a stupid number of times and it always thrills me. Godzilla is a visual extravaganza, with a compelling story, suspense and great action. It also has the most ass-kickinest, stompinest, fire-breathinest awesome monster ever to grace the silver screen! Many have tried but no one has really been able to duplicate Godzilla. Even Toho themselves haven’t created a monster flick to top it. Godzilla is in a class all its own. Highest of recommendations!

Japanese with English subtitles.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Ishirô Honda

Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai