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With: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Miki Sanjo, Kenjiro Uemura, Chieko Nakakita, Noriko Sengoku
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Senkichi Taniguchi, based on a play by Kazuo Kikuta
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 03/13/1949

The Quiet Duel (1949)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sick Doc

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The liner notes for the new DVD of Akira Kurosawa's The Quiet Duel practically apologize for its existence, but no apology is necessary. Yes, it's a hospital, disease-of-the-week melodrama, but it contains many touches of Kurosawa's brilliance. Let's start with the opening sequence in which military doctor Kyoji Fujisaki (Toshiro Mifune) performs surgery in less than optimal conditions. Like the opening of Rashomon, the rain hammers down mercilessly, and water has begun dripping from the roof of the tent. A nurse uses a tin pot to capture it, making a constant plunking sound against the tense silence. Fujisaki can't quite keep the sweat off his brow. Frustrated, he removes his rubber gloves to finish tying a suture, and cuts his hand on a scalpel. Little does he know that the man's blood is tainted with syphilis. By the time the war ends, and Fujisaki returns home, the untreated disease has cursed him. He has never known physical pleasure and will never be able to marry his true love, Misao Matsumoto (Miki Sanjo), nor can he tell her the reason why. Kurosawa films the bulk of the film on a shabby hospital sound stage as Fujisaki emptily goes about his duties; only his father (Takashi Shimura) and an apprentice nurse (Noriko Sengoku) know the truth. Kurosawa uses shadows and unique framing to enhance the story, shooting through holes, broken windows or down the long corridors. And though Mifune was probably too intense for this melancholy role, he manages rather nicely. This was Mifune's second film with Kurosawa (after Drunken Angel) and they would go on to make history together; appropriately, their final film would be another hospital drama, Red Beard (1965).

DVD Details: BCI Eclipse has distributed this most welcome new DVD, and though the letterboxed, black-and-white transfer lacks the pristine cleanliness of the Criterion Collection, it's still a fine achievement. Writer Stuart Galbraith contributes the liner notes. Extras include the trailer, a newsreel about the Daiei Studios baseball team (Kurosawa made most of his later films at Toho Studios) and new interviews with surviving cast and crew-members: cinematographer Setsuo Kobayashi (who was only an assistant on this film and mainly worked with Yasuzo Masumura and Kon Ichikawa), actress Miki Sanjo and composer Akira Ifukube.

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