First off, I would like to apologize to my readers. My Breath of the Wild review is taking a bit longer than expected. I’m almost finished, and I promise to have it done before the end of the month. Because I’ve been working on what is turning out to be a rather lengthy review, I only got to see two films this past week – both at home. I’ll try to see more when I’m less busy.
Drunken Angel by Akira Kurosawa (1948)
An alcoholic doctor by the name of Sanada is making a living in a postwar Japan. One night, a young hoodlum named Matsunaga visits his clinic. With what few resources Sanada has, he determines that his impromptu patient is suffering from tuberculous. He implores Matsunaga to begin treatment and quit his extravagant lifestyle. From there, the two form a decidedly belligerent friendship. Meanwhile, Okada, who is both the yazuka boss Matsunaga answered to and an abusive ex-boyfriend of the doctor’s female assistant, Miyo, is released from prison. As Matsunaga begins to ignore Sanada’s advice, the relationship begins to deteriorate. Coupled with Okada’s sudden reappearance, Sanada finds himself in a dire position.
Akira Kurosawa made his directorial debut in 1943 during the Second World War in the form of Sanshiro Sugata. From there, he had been forced to write and direct various propaganda films despite being a pacifist. Once the war ended, Kurosawa regretted having made them, though one of the projects had him meet actor Takashi Shimura, with whom he developed a strong friendship. Shimura would go on to star in twenty of Kurosawa’s films, but with Drunken Angel, the director was about to gain his most famous collaborator.
Having previously served in the Aerial Photography unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, a man named Toshiro Mifune lent his talents to Toho Productions, gaining work as an assistant cameraman. As a prolonged strike caused many actors to leave and form their own company, Shin Toho (New Toho), Toho devised a “new faces” contest to replace the lost talent. Mifune’s friends submitted an application and a photo without his knowledge. He suddenly found himself at a screen test arranged by Kajirō Yamamoto. When asked to mime anger, he drew from his wartime experiences. Impressed, Yamamoto referred him to director Senkichi Taniguchi and Mifune proceeded to debut on the silver screen in These Foolish Times. Shortly thereafter, Toho conducted another talent search. Kurosawa, who initially wanted to skip the event, was convinced to attend after actress Hideko Takamine told him about a promising actor. He was, in his own words, “transfixed” by what he saw in Mifune. The judges didn’t hold the same opinion, as he lost the competition. Regardless, Kurosawa knew he found exactly who he needed to play the boorish Matsunaga.
With Drunken Angel popularly considered the moment Akira Kurosawa hit his stride and the vehicle that Toshiro Mifune rode to super stardom, I knew I had to see it. In a way, Drunken Angel feels like a rough precursor to Rashomon. It follows a far more conventional narrative structure, but the two films share an esoteric connection in that they focus on deeply flawed characters. Matsunaga has no qualms taking things without paying, treats everyone below his ranking with contempt, and is prone to angry outbursts. Meanwhile, Dr. Sanada has no tact when telling patients about the severity of their illnesses and his bedside manner typically consists of throwing objects at others and yelling the word “idiot”. At the same time, they’re shown to be decent people when push comes to shove. The doctor genuinely wants his patients to recover from their illnesses rather than attempt to profit off their misfortune. The hoodlum, for his part, has a soft spot for many good people and confronts Okada to protect Miyo and Sanada |at the cost of his life|.
Though Drunken Angel wasn’t exactly the coup Rashomon was, I feel it is worthy of being watched at least once. It is commonly cited as the first postwar yazuka film, and it remains a solid effort even to this day. Despite its themes, it’s not an action-packed film, but it does make great use out of its few moving parts to tell a story that will stick with you.
Carrie by Brian De Palma (1976)
Carrie White is trapped in a living nightmare. She is a 16-year-old high school student who is shy, unpopular, and frequently bullied. Things get especially bad when she experiences her first period while showering. Not knowing what is happening to her, she panics and runs out into the locker room. This causes the other girls, led by the popular Christine “Chris” Hargensen, to pelt her with tampons. As it turns out, her home situation isn’t any better. Her mother, Margaret, rants about menstruation, believing it to be the result of sinful thoughts. As punishment, she is locked in a small prayer closet. The gym teacher, Miss Collins, hands the girls who bullied Carrie detention for a week. A vindictive, petty Chris vows revenge on Carrie with an elaborate plan to humiliate her at the senior prom. |She has no way of knowing that her scheme will work far more effectively than she could have ever imagined.|
The steps I took that ended with me watching Carrie were a bit convoluted. I heard from various sources that the excellent Netflix original show Stranger Things took cues from Stephen King’s Carrie – its central character, Eleven, sharing many similarities with the title character. Furthermore, a few months ago, I reviewed Beyond: Two Souls. Like much of Quantic Dream’s output, it proved highly controversial with many people insisting it wasn’t a real game. Though I tried not to delve too deeply into the semantical debate when I decided to take a swing discussing it, I ultimately awarded it a failing grade, citing its inability to use the medium in any meaningful way as my primary reason. As I researched the game, I learned its protagonist, Jodie Holmes, was also frequently compared with Carrie White. I had a copy of this film lying around for some time, and after I reviewed BioShock Infinite, I thought it appropriate to watch the films that served as Ken Levine’s primary influences. Then about halfway through the film, I remembered the films in question were The Shining and Blue Velvet. Whoops.
For an extra bit of context, I had seen two of Brian De Palma’s films before Carrie. The first was The Untouchables, a good film detailing Elliot Ness’s campaign against the rampant mob corruption in Chicago during the Prohibition era. A few months later, I would end up seeing Scarface, which would quickly become one of my all-time favorites. Because of this, my attitude going into Carrie was positive.
Brian De Palma ended up taking many cues from Alfred Hitchcock, and with Carrie being one of his earlier films, the influences are quite apparent. Nearly every instance of Carrie showing off her supernatural powers is accompanied with a Psycho-esque string cue and there’s a lot of suspense being built up as the major players fulfill their goals. Plus, there’s the fact that the institution is known as Bates High School |– meaning things never had a chance of turning out well for anyone enrolled|.
Carrie takes a bit of a strange approach compared to most films in the genre in that the narrative is not in a rush to horrify its audience. Though the supernatural elements are introduced fairly early on, they’re such isolated incidents that they’re easy to forget about as you’re watching. Indeed, if you ignore Carrie breaking a mirror and her mother’s grandiose, creepy behavior, you would be forgiven for thinking the film to be a straightforward teen drama – albeit with probable future serial killers comprising the student body. Nonetheless, when it culminates in its famous, pitch-dark climax, you know your patience paid off, and it really quite something. |In a way, it’s as much a revenge film as it is a horror story.|
I don’t quite have the same level of admiration for Carrie as I do Stranger Things (or Scarface as far as De Palma films go), but I deem it worthy of a watch. It makes excellent use of its short length to build tension, and when things go off the rails, you can take comfort in the fact that the story well and truly earned that moment. I do have to say if you intend to watch Carrie, do so without engaging with any promotional materials or reading up about it online. I ended up watching the official trailer shortly after finishing the film only to be amused that I essentially got a three-minute summary of what I just saw. |The highlight is when it introduces John Travolta only for his character to die in a car explosion seconds later.| I’ve noticed that a lot of old trailers outright spoil major developments. Did audiences just not mind back then?