I have often heard of "The Quiet Duel" as one of the lesser of Kurosawa's films, that there was something about it that just didn't quite work. Surely, it is not of the same caliber as Seven Samurai or Ikiru, but after seeing it, and finding out what an excellent film it is, I think its reputation is undeserved.
This is Kurosawa's ninth film as full director, and his second collaboration with the power combo of Shimura Takeshi and Mifune Toshiro. It tells the story of a doctor, brilliant and willful, who is infected with syphilis while saving a patients life on the battlefield. At this time in history, syphilis cures were chancy at best, often hurting the patient more than if they had just been left alone. It was basically the death sentence that AIDs is today, carrying the same stigmatism. The doctor knows he has a death sentence, and must distance himself from his girlfriend or all meaningful human contact, in order not to infect someone else with the dread disease.
"The Quiet Duel" revisits some of the themes from his previous work, Drunken Angel. However, whereas "Drunken Angel" had the doctor as a flawed character, "The Quiet Duel" presents him as a tower of heroic strength; almost able to withstand without regret the cruel fate he has been inflicted with. In an impulsive moment, to save a man's life, he loses everything of meaning and must endure what his life has become as a result.
The slight and apparent flaw in the film is that Mifune's doctor keeps operating on patients even though he is infected. He shies from all human touch save the inside of an operating theater, but one can't help but wonder how easy it would be for one of his gloves to break and the disease to slip into a patients body. I thought this should have been addressed better, but as it is suspension of disbelief has to come into play.
Even more than "Drunken Angel", Mifune's acting skills and shear screen power come out to play here. His doctor is a far cry from his slick gangster, and shades of the Red Beard he will become are apparent. Shimura has a lesser supporting role, as would always be the case when the powerhouse of Mifune takes the screen, but he brings a lightness and human element that would be otherwise missing. There is one scene that is just amazing...but I don't want to ruin it for you. Just watch it, and you will see.
This DVD includes some really nice interviews from cinematographer Setsuo Kobayashi, actress Miki Sanjo and composer Akila Ifukube. While not quite up to par with the Criterion Collection releases, it is still a fantastic DVD.