THE QUIET DUEL (SHIZUKANARU KETTO) is among the least famous of director Akira Kurosawa's films. You might assume this is because it's a "lesser" film--in other words, one of the director's few misfires. Well, I would disagree strongly. While there are a few small elements that I didn't love (such as the doctor's almost martyr-like unwillingness to tell anyone about his infection), there is also so much to love--and some terrific performances. Perhaps some of the reason this film isn't as highly regarded is because it lacks the spectacle of films like THE SEVEN SAMURAI or RAN. However, I usually prefer the director's quieter and more human films--such as IKARU, SCANDAL and THE BAD SLEEP WELL (among others). The film begins during WWII. Toshirô Mifune is a doctor operating on many wounded soldiers. During one surgery, he removes his surgical gloves and then gets cut--yet continues operating on a man who turns out to have syphilis. Now I really wish the film had explained this scene better, as you either can assume the doctors had a shortage of gloves OR the doctor is simply an idiot. Based on the rest of the movie, you'd assume no more gloves were available and if they were, then operating without them was very reckless. The film then picks up in 1946. Now Mifune is working at a low-income medical clinic and no one knows that he now is infected with syphilis--not even his father or sweet fiancée. All the fiancée knows is that after being engaged for six years and waiting for him throughout the war, he inexplicably won't commit to a date for the marriage now that it has ended. Secretly he continues giving himself injections of a drug to eliminate this usually sexually transmitted disease and he knows that if he does consummate his relationship, he will infect her as well because the treatment regimen at this advanced state is time-consuming. Now the movie did explain his logic for keeping this secret to himself but I still didn't buy into this as in the long run--it would have probably been a lot better just to tell her. However, despite the couple plot problems I mentioned, there is so much to love about the film. Mifune and the rest are great but I was particularly impressed by Noriko Sengoku who plays a wonderful part. I say wonderful because like some of the best characters in film, she isn't exactly who you think she is and her character grows and changes throughout the film. Despite only being a supporting player, I actually think her part is the best in the film. She plays an apprentice nurse who is very lazy and unlikable when you first see her. I naturally assumed that throughout the film she would continue this way and be a major thorn in the doctor's side. However, as the film progresses, she is revealed to have much depth and is a wonderful counterpoint to the long-suffering doctor. I especially enjoyed her scenes late in the film, such as when she and the doctor break down and cry about his predicament as well as the scene where she attacks the man who infected Mifune. The crying scene was particularly effective, as you rarely see this sort of raw emotion in film--particularly in the 1940s as well as from a man. There is a lot more to this film that I haven't mentioned including a couple sub-plots. All are superb and show that even though this is a very muted and understated film, it also is very, very powerful. Overall, a film made much better by the director's gentle touch and some riveting performances.
The Quiet Duel
The Quiet Duel
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A surgeon gets syphilis from a patient when he cuts himself during an operation. The doctor's life is destroyed, but unlike the patient, he doesn't destroy others along with him.
December 30, 2021