In 1948, when film production at Toho Studios stopped because of a union strike, Akira Kurosawa turned to theatre, directing two stage plays. One of these was Chekhov’s A Marriage Proposal, while the other was an adaptation of his latest film Drunken Angel, featuring its stars Takashi Shimura and the young Toshirō Mifune on stage. Surprisingly little has been written about this brief episode in Kurosawa’s career, with Drunken Angel‘s stage adaptation remaining just a curious historical footnote in the director’s oeuvre.
But now, over 70 years after the original premiere of the play, Drunken Angel will get its stage revival in Japan. This will be under the capable direction of none other than Takashi Miike, the hugely prolific film director of over 100 titles, best known in the west for works like 13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, Sukiyaki Western Django, and Audition.
According to the new production’s official website, the show will open in Tokyo on the 3rd of September 2021, playing at the Meijiza Theatre until the 20th. Immediately after, it will move to Osaka’s Shin-Kabukiza Theater where performances will run from the 1st to the 11th of October.
The play has been adapted from Kurosawa and co-writer Keinosuke Uegusa’s original play and screenplay by Ryūta Hōrai, who is a resident playwright, director and co-founder of the theatre company Modern Swimmers. One of the big names in Japanese theatre today, Hōrai has been awarded the Kishida Drama Award (2009), the Tsuruya Namboku Award (2017) and the Hayakawa Tragedy and Comedy Award (2019). He has also written for the silver screen, with his latest film credit suitably being the screenplay for a film called Theatre: A Love Story, adapted from a novel by Naoki Matayoshi.
Drunken Angel, which tells the story about the meeting of an alcoholic doctor and a minor gangster in postwar Japan, is typically considered Kurosawa’s first major film. It was also the first time that Toshirō Mifune acted under Kurosawa’s direction, beginning a legendary collaboration that would last for the next two decades and cover over half of the director’s films, as well other productions.
For the new stage version, Mifune’s gangster will be played by Kenta Kiritani while Shimura’s shoes will be filled by Katsunori Takahashi. Both actors have worked with director Miike before. Model and actor Nozomi Sasaki will meanwhile take on the role of Nanae, apparently renamed to Gin in the new adaptation, while Masahiro Takashima portrays the gang boss Okada. As far as I can see, the setting remains post-war Japan.
Drunken Angel is perhaps one of the most theatre-like of Kurosawa’s original stories, and as such should be a very suitable candidate for a theatre revival. I’m sure Miike will create something interesting out of it and I very much wish that there would be some way also for us in the rest of the world to witness the results, if only through a stream or a recording.
The new production follows in the footsteps of the 2018 musical adaptation of Ikiru, which will also soon be shown on TV in Japan, as well as the 2015 musical adaptation of Samurai 7. And just last week, an American stage play loosely based on Kurosawa’s life was streaming online.
With theatre producers increasingly turning their attention to Kurosawa’s life and films, which of his works would you like to see on stage most?