I want to keep this short because there is no way I could properly write about this film without getting too personal. Not that I'm afraid of getting too personal, it's just that I believe that some things belong just to ourselves. Like the pain of Toshiro Mifune's character, “the sharp-looking type that women go for”, a suave crook, with a great intensity in his eyes, and wild strands of hair that fall in his face in just the right moments, in just the right way, to cool for everything, but not immune to illness. Tuberculosis is out to get him. Illness, the great dictator, and yet the great democrat, too, as it doesn't care who you are, where you're coming from and where you plan on going. You are in its grip, robbed of your identity, reminding you that your life is just a few blinks in the grand scheme of things, and these are the truths he is facing now, whether he wants to or not. With one hand he is firmly holding on to the Earth—his pride, his loyalty, his masculinity, the ego that tricks him into believing that we matter. His knowing hand is greeting mortality. He stands by a muddy river, smelling on a carnation, the flower of death. Then he throws it into the dirty water. He'll stay for just a little longer.
And then there is the alcoholic doctor, played by Takashi Shimura, who cares a little more than any doctor you will ever meet in real life, he's a little too invested, and we realize it's because he is projecting all sorts of things into his unusual new patient: He sees in him a memory or a wish, maybe he sees what he himself could have been, whether it was who he wanted to be or feared to be. He admires and despises him in equal measure. He is the drunken angel who makes a promise of saving Mifune's character, in such a desperate way that you think he's trying to save his own life. And in a way that's exactly his intention. Sometimes we cling to people and try to save them because we fail to save ourselves. And when we fail them, too, we might get angry because they didn't allow us to forget, to bury our heads in their lap and disappear in their pain. And so there we are again, alone, cornered by our own shortcomings and no way out. No way to dissolve until our time is up. A blessing and a curse to wake up again the next day with a new illusion, something else to cling to. A stranger or a familiar face crossing our path, confirming our purpose or leaving us with a smile.
I have been both, the drunken angel and the one who was once saved by one, and this is why this unforgettable film will always hold a special place in my heart.