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Drunken Angel: the Sorensen documentary

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    Vili Maunula

    I watched the Sorensen documentary (or video essay, as it is called) “Kurosawa and the Censors” that is included on Criterion’s Drunken Angel disc, and found it an interesting piece of historical research.

    I must, however, say that I personally consider Sorensen’s main thesis — that in his films Kurosawa was anti-western (or anti-occupation) — to be somewhat too simplistic a look at the situation. Kurosawa’s post-war films certainly point out problems that the society was facing at that time, and the occupation is obviously one factor in those problems, but to say that he was systematically against the occupation and its influences would, based on what I have read and seen, not appear to be right. After all, criticising something is not the same as being against it.

    Sorensen does make a very interesting point about the way Okada’s dressing choices evolve in the film, though. When he first appears he is shown wearing a yukata, and then progressively seems to be getting more and more layers of western clothes on him. Sorensen interprets this as Okada becoming increasingly western, but I wouldn’t personally see it that way. In fact,, his claim that the yakuza at that point in time wore Japanese rather than western clothes seems strange. Western clothing had, after all, been worn for decades before the war. Having said that, I have no idea what the yakuza were wearing.

    As yukata is an informal and relaxed summer dress, I personally see Okada’s “progression” from it to the more glamorous western clothes as simply a way to show how he returns back to power.

    Or am I missing something here?


    Jon Hooper

    I think that Sorensen makes the distinction between Kurosawa’s style showing western influences, and his opposition to the west in his message, in what the film communicates. You’re right I think in saying that this is an oversimplification – indeed, criticism is not the same as opposition, as you so rightly point out. But I think that even if one accepts that Okada’s clothes become increasingly western, that does not mean that Kurosawa takes everything western as being corrupt and to be rejected. He seems to have mixed feelings, as far as I can tell, and sometimes even seems to exhibit a nostalgia for certain western things like baseball – in Stray Dog, for example, he seems as interested in the baseball game as in the detective work. If I remember his writings on his father, Kurosawa senior, while strict, was certainly progressive in some respects and open to certain western attractions like baseball and cinema.



    I did enjoy Sorensen’s stuff, but I too agree Vili is a bit too simplistic.

    You make a excellent point in the dress attire of Okada, indeed Yakuza were dressing western long before WWII. Non-traditional clothing became common to high ranking officers as far back as the mid 1800’s. Then you have the race the emperor’s race to establish a western culture shortly there after. I dont know when the yakuza established, but from written history, it points to dressing different then typical Japanese was part of the culture and befitting of the compound name they use to promote themselves.

    I also dont see this as a Kurosawa attack on the west, but perhaps some probing and highlighting much like Hooper mentions.



    I agree with you, Vili, that Sorensen oversimplifies things by equating Western with “bad.” Kurosawa’s relationship with Western influences and the occupation were far more nuanced than that, and as you say, criticism does not equal outright hostility.



    If one accepts Sorensen’s theory that, in depicting Okada’s dress as progressively Western, Kurosawa was somehow criticizing the corrupting influence of Western values on the Japanese, the implication would be that Okada starts out as a good (Japanese-dressed) character and progressively becomes a bad (Western-dressed) character, whereas Okada is, in fact, depicted as a villain from the beginning, no matter what he wears. I also see no reason to believe Sorensen’s claim that the yakuza wore Japanese dress in the late 1940s. A decade and a half before Drunken Angel, in Ozu’s 1933 Dragnet Girl, the gangsters already wear Western clothes. (See here and here.) The detail of the clothing aside, Sorensen’s theory goes against every published interview I’ve read about AK’s attitude towards the Occupation and Western influence at that time. His attitude toward the Occupation may have changed later, though: the hero of Madadayo treats the occupying Westerners with weary contempt.

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