A QUIET DUEL

(Japanese Title: Shizukanaru ketto)

(1949 - Japan)
With Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Miki Sanjo
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

You're so boring... you haven't killed anybody in days!"    A QUIET DUEL follows DRUNKEN ANGEL, the film that is considered by many, including the director himself, to be Kurosawa's first important film.  A QUIET DUEL features a similar saintly doctor as its main character, played by the young Toshiro Mifune, who became a star with his turn as a gangster in DRUNKEN ANGEL.  Mifune's Dr. Fujisaki accidentally contracts syphilis through a patient's blood while performing an operation during the war. Upon returning to private practice, he breaks up with his fiancée without telling her why and attempts to cure himself in secret.

      As shown in the film, the doctor's dilemma is not only shame but concern for his intended bride, whom he knows will wait the five years or so it will take to cure the disease.  Kurosawa could have made the story more powerful had he given the doctor more weaknesses.  Mifune is excellent as the doctor, especially considering this was only his second film for Kurosawa, but the character is simply too angelic and one-dimensional.  Had the doctor contacted syphilis through a night of casual sex with a stranger - to take his mind off the war perhaps? - he would have a more intriguing character flaw than stubborn saintliness and a more compelling problem upon which the film could be built.  Compare Mifune's doctor to the one Takashi Shimura played in DRUNKEN ANGEL and it is clear why that previous film is more powerful.  Shimura played a man who was filled with rage and had such an addiction to drinking, he made his own concoctions out of medicinal alcohol.  The doctor in A QUIET DUEL has no such rough edges to help Mifune bring him to life.

     A QUIET DUEL resembles the later and more successful RED BEARD and even shares the device of using the four seasons to tell the whole story. But A QUIET DUEL film lacks RED BEARD's epic quality add overwhelming love for humanity which helped make it a flawed masterpiece.  A QUIET DUEL is worth viewing for fans of Mifune and Shimura, who plays the doctor's father, and to see Kurosawa developing his style, with long takes, creative framing of characters and use of weather as a harbinger of tragedy (when there is talk about saving the life of an unborn baby, the next scene begins with rain, signalling the eventual tragic outcome.)  There are also some well-played sympathetic female characters, which would become a rarity in Kurosawa's later classics.

     If you are already a Kurosawa fan, you will find things of interest in A QUIET DUEL.  If you are not, start someplace else and work you way toward this one. 2½ - JB

NOTES: Kurosawa films on DVD are usually released by Criterion or a cheap Hong Kong labels with horrible subtitles.  My review of A QUIET DUEL, however, is based on a DVD issued by BCI.  Although not as good as the typical Criterion release, it was nevertheless a thousand times better than the typical Hong Kong cheapie I've had to base a handful of my other reviews on.  If you have been burned by the Hong Kong releases and are afraid of this one because it is not a Criterion, fear not. Decent print, good subtitles, even a handful of interesting extras. - JB

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