Written by Keinosuke Uekusa and Akira Kurosawa. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. 1948.
"Japanese make too many useless sacrifices," says Shimura's doctor, a criticism of both Mifune's Yakuza thugs who populate the dingy, disease-ridden back-alleys of Tokyo and the militarists who made them -- both the thugs and the alleys. Kurosawa's historic epics, from Seven Samurai to Kagemusha, are his calling cards, but I'll always prefer his noir. His gangsters and drunks swagger and bluster, protesting under the burden of who they are, and it's in their darkest places their humanity shines brightest. Drunken Angel climaxes with a useful sacrifice: Mifune's life for the doctor's. At the movie's end, Shimura buys one of his patients, a seventeen-year-old girl who's survived TB, a sweet, payment on a bet. "Where does one buy sweets?" the old man asks. The girl laughs. "You really don't know anything, do you. At the sweet shop." They stroll off arm in arm and are immediately lost in the marketplace, in a sea of shuffling bodies -- all the more lives the doctor may now save, thanks to a thug.