Most recently, I watched a film called The Quiet Duel.
It's the second collaboration between Mifune and Kurosawa and, I think, the only one that's been released on DVD in the US by someone other than Criterion. It's unfortunate because the picture quality on the DVD is pretty poor, but I can't imagine too many distributors having the kind of resources or finances to restore films like Criterion does.
The film is about a surgeon, Mifune, who contracts syphilis while operating on an infected patient during the war. At the time, syphilis was a much more serious disease than it is now, being not always curable without some serious damage, and carried with it a large amount of social stigma given that it was generally contracted through sex. Sort of like AIDS was over here not so long ago.
Anyway, Mifune gets the disease and comes home from the war to work with his father at their clinic. He doesn't tell anyone about his condition, because of the previously mentioned social stigma, and instead opts to try and suffer silently, stealing medicine from the clinic and injecting himself while no one is around. He is also forced to break off his engagement with Misao, who had been waiting for him to come home from the war and marry her. Heartbreak all around.
Naturally, his illness is discovered eventually by a nurse and his father. He and his father, played by the excellent Takashi Shimura by the way, argue about whether or not he should tell Misao, and he never does. Instead, he urges her to find someone else and to be happy.
One day, he runs into the man he contracted the illness from and he finds out that the man never got treated for the condition despite Mifune's urging during the war, and that the man is married and has a child on the way. Mifune does what he can to help the couple, but there's only so much he can do at that point.
It's a pretty good movie that's elevated by Mifune's performance. It was, if I remember correctly, his fourth role and his first playing something other than a gangster/roughneck type of character. He manages to capture the dignified, silent suffering as well as could possibly be done with nothing more than his facial expressions and body language. It's really impressive and it's not even Mifune at his best.
I definitely recommend the film, even though it isn't anywhere near as great as many of the other collaborations between Mifune and Kurosawa.
Tags: movie reviews