Drunken Angel

Kurosawa's breakout feature stars a gruff, irascible but golden-hearted doctor working in a slum and doing his very best to heal both the bodies and the souls of his patients. The metaphor is bluntly stated and frequently reiterated – dirt and disease are the physical counterparts of the moral evils committed by the yakuza who control the neighbourhood. There is a giant swamp in the middle of the district to underline the point. 

The doctor tries to save the life of a young gangster who he diagnoses with tuberculosis. But treatment involves staying away from the drink and excitement of life as a criminal. Ultimately it's impossible to stay clean and healthy while living in the city. The film floats the prospect of returning to health and finding love in the countryside, but the yakuza cannot stay away. He's stuck in the swamp, and dies there.

The film is notable for being Kurosawa's first collaboration with Toshiro Mifune, who really does dominate the screen. He can be as suave and debonair as Marcello Mastroianni in 1960s Rome and as physical and dangerous as a jungle cat. There's a scene of him taking a girl for a spin in a nightclub where he looks like he could command armies with a swing of a hip. Mifune is emasculated by the introduction of a bigger and badder crime boss, but he sells the desperation he falls into well, and is given a grandiose death scene as a fitting send-off. 

Mifune's energy is well matched by that of the doctor, played by Takashi Shimura, who cannot stop himself speaking his mind and never speaks when he can shout. Without the portentous body politic metaphor the film is basically a character study of a man stuck where he is because he cannot grease the wheels of social advancement. He calls bullshit everywhere he sees it and as a result cannot escape being engulfed by it. Kurosawa doesn't quite know where to take the character. The ending gives him a little moment of grace with a young patient he has managed to cure, but that is set against a lifetime stitching up criminals and burying bodies, and it rings a bit false. Kurosawa may have had his first hit, but it seems he was still learning his craft.


2020 lockdown gaming

The main reason why my other EOY lists are shorter than previous years is because I've started playing computer games again. That makes perfect sense in a lockdown year where you had to find ways to occupy yourself at home. It makes less sense when you have a baby to look after, although I've found that the stresses of that (alongside some other things that have made this year pretty tough on my family) were aleviated somewhat by gaming, which has the amazing ability to take your brain elsewhere entirely.

I haven't played a computer game since going to university more than 10 years ago, so I'm neither a very experienced nor a very proficient gamer. But that hasn't stopped me from trying to think a little bit about how games achieve their effects, and writing about that here. I've been helped in this by listening to the Watch Out For Fireballs podcast, which talks through and takes apart different games on a weekly basis. That show, as well as the network in general, has been another source of entertainment and distraction during this difficult year – and it has supplied me with prompts and a vocabularly for evaluating the games I'm playing. The hosts are great company, and it's been fun to listen and play alongside them.

I've been drawn to CRPGs mostly, which are gentle on the reflexes and tend to have a greater emphasis on story and character. That's the stuff I really latch onto, over and above satisfying and rewarding gameplay. It helps that I've been playing the Citizen Kanes and Casablancas of the medium – a good way to avoid disappointment as well as educate yourself on what games can achieve at their best. I've done my best to articulate those achievements in the summaries of my playthroughs below: