Thursday, January 7, 2010

SPOTLIGHT: The Quiet Duel (1949)

What can I say? Comparing this Akira Kurosawa-directed film with Drunken Angel, released the previous year (and spotlighted below on Jan. 3rd) is like comparing milk-based food products and soft, white, porous sedimentary rock.

In Shizukanaru Ketto (The Quiet Duel 静かなる決闘) Toshiro Mifune plays the complete antithesis of his wild, downwardly-spiraling gangster from the earlier movie; this time he's the doctor, and a dedicated one at that, who falls victim during the war to one of his own patients: during an operation to save the man's life, he cuts himself and thereby contracts the soldier's syphilis.

Rather than wallow in despair, however, he returns to his father's hospital in Japan after the war, and throws himself into his work - helping those less fortunate with a genial smile and a warm sense of humour, even while breaking up with his fiancee to save her from the risk of also contracting the disease. He also refuses to mention his illness to anyone.

Mifune is superb in the role; he's like the doctor you always wanted to have, perhaps bearing even more humility and kindness because of the desperate phase of his own life.

Takashi Shimura as always shines in the role of Mifune's father, and there're those typical, perfect moments of Kurosawa humour and warmth even amidst some devastating and frustrating drama. The action is minimal and there's not a katana blade in sight, yet this is superb stuff.

But the real revelation here is Noriko Sengoku, the atypical Japanese actress in the prominent supporting role as apprentice nurse Minegishi.

While her earlier role for Kurosawa in Drunken Angel was a pivotal one it was also brief; here she has much more room to move and develops through the movie - from a self-destructive, selfish single mother early on into the feisty, dedicated, supportive head nurse at the conclusion.

Along the way, Sengoku more than holds her own in the company of Mifune and Shimura - so as a footnote it's interesting to note that she's still acting even now - at the age of 87.

This Kurosawa flick is a little difficult to find, but I got mine from the people at Madman in Australia.

Images © 1949 Kadokawa Herlad Pictures Inc.

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