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September 21, 2006

The Quiet Duel


Shizukanaru Ketto
Akira Kurosawa - 1949
BCI Region 1 DVD

Akira Kurosawa's ninth film seems to have been released this week without much fanfare. While it is admittedly not one of his best films, for me, the release of any vintage Kurosawa is still cause for celebration. The Quiet Duel is one of Kurosawa's early films that is relatively unseen. The film had not received theatrical distribution in the United States until 1979. While the title seems to suggest a story about samurai, this is again Kurosawa examining post-war Japan.

Toshiro Mifune portrays a doctor, Kyoji, who has contracted syphilis through an accident while operating on a patient. After the war, Kyoji goes back to join his father, also a doctor, in his medical practice, keeping his illness a secret. Even though Kyoji is treating the disease, he pushes away his fiancee rather than explain why he has broken off their engagement. By chance, Kyoji meets up with Nakada, the soldier who infected him. Nakada has dismissed the warnings of treating his syphilis and how it could affect others, and is now with a pregnant wife. While The Quiet Duel can be categorized with Kurosawa's other socially concerned films, looking beyond the narrative is a critique of Japanese manners, especially the custom of indirectly addressing a concern in conversation, as well as the misplaced sense of shame.

The Quiet Duel has become even more interesting to watch in these times when safe sex is mandated. Later in the film we see Narada become more deranged from the effects of his untreated illness. There is also discussion about how syphilis has effected Narada's unborn baby. There is a scene where Mifune is anguished over his enforced celebacy since becoming infected. I had to wonder if condoms were not available in Japan during this time. The title of the film refers to Kyoji dealing with his conflicts as calmly as possible.

Even if certain aspects of the narrative are questionable, The Quiet Duel shows Kurosawa under the influence of Ford, Wyler and especially Welles, with an emphasis on depth of field cinematography. In the DVD supplement, a cinematography crew member explains how a special lens was created for use in the film. Keeping in mind that Japanese studios lacked the film stock or equipment that was standard in Hollywood at this time makes the visuals in The Quiet Duel even more astounding. The composition of shots, such as above, resemble that of Wyler's Dodsworth in the use of a literal framing device.

The film, which co-stars Kurosawa favorite Takashi Shimura, suffers from moments of bathos - just a bit too tearful, too sentimental, and at times too noble. This may have been due to the producers' demands as this was made before Kurosawa had complete control over his films. Still, a minor Kurosawa film is still a Kurosawa film, which should be reason enough to see The Quiet Duel.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 21, 2006 04:01 PM


Mmh... Both Drunken Angel and Stray Dog were made at the same time and they are (especially Stray Dog) so vastly superior to Quiet Duel on every respect, that it's hard not to consider Quiet Duel (arguably pretty to look at) as a very bad film. And Noriko Sengoku, who plays the shrill nurse, is truly awful miles from the world-weary prostitute she plays in Stray Dog.

Posted by: Owen at September 22, 2006 04:36 PM