Toshirô Mifune as Matsunaga, tubercular Japanese gangster
Japan, summer 1947
Film: Drunken Angel
(Japanese title: 醉いどれ天使 Yoidore Tenshi)
Release Date: April 27, 1948
Director: Akira Kurosawa
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One request I received about a year ago was the flashy tailored style of Matsunaga, the swaggering Yakuza lieutenant at the heart – or should I say lung – of Kurosawa’s 1948 masterpiece Drunken Angel.
We first meet Matsunaga at the outset of the film when he seeks out the services of the alcoholic Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) to take care of a pesky bullet-in-the-hand situation. Medical professional that he is, Sanada recognizes the symptoms of tuberculosis in his pugnacious patient and warns him to adopt a different lifestyle to prolong his life, cutting out elements like drinking, dancing, and smoking.
Kurosawa knew he needed a special kind of talent to carry the role of Matsunaga, and his choice was made after watching Toshirô Mifune’s audition.
“Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world,” Kurosawa would later write. “It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities.”
Born on April 1, 1920, in China, Toshirô Mifune would go on to star in more than 160 movies including a total of 16 collaborations with Kurosawa. Drunken Angel was only Mifune’s fourth film, but Matsunaga is arguably the role that made him a star… to the point that many audiences have mistakenly attributed the “drunken angel” of the title to refer to Mifune’s electric gangster rather than its intended subject, the good doctor Sanada.
What’d He Wear?
Due to the American occupation of Japan at the time, Kurosawa was forced to adhere to certain protocols and censorships, including the Westernized clothing and hairstyles of Drunken Angel‘s central characters. Thus, Matsunaga hits the dance floor in a light, subtly striped suit that could have just as easily been seen on the streets of contemporary Chicago or L.A. (For the sake of argument, and based on the way it reflects sunlight, let’s refer to his suit as white.)
The double-breasted suit jacket has four mother-of-pearl sew-through buttons, with one to close. Though he often wears the front of the jacket unbuttoned, Matsunaga’s suit jackets have an internal anchor button fastened to a short strap that keeps his jacket from flapping around while he’s dancing or brawling. The ventless jacket has three-button cuffs, straight jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket where he wears a silk pocket square with a pattern that appears to echo the stripes of his tie.
While not necessarily a zoot suit, the jacket’s excessively wide shoulders certainly adhere to Malcolm X’s famous description of “shoulders padded like a lunatic’s cell” with wide peak lapels stretching across the chest in an attempt to meet them.
Not satisfied with the subtlety of his suit stripes – nor with subtlety in general – Matsunaga wears a striped shirt and tie.
The likely cotton shirt has a complex stripe pattern of of a white stripe shadowed by thin dark stripes; this stripe set is, in turn, bordered on each side by a wider medium-colored stripe, all on a light-colored ground. The silk tie is boldly vertical striped in two colors, one of which likely being white.
The pleated trousers are fully cut to coordinate with the rest of the suit and echo the large fit that was trendy in the immediate postwar era. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Matsunaga, ever aware of the communicative power of personal style, naturally opts for a pair of spectator shoes, a choice of footwear favored by the confident and – according to its “correspondent shoe” origins – the caddish. Matsunaga’s spectator derby shoes have brown leather around the apron-toe cap and quarters with lighter-colored, likely tan, vamp. The lace panels may also be a third shade, only slightly lighter than the toe cap and quarters.
He wears a pair of dark socks, possibly brown to coordinate with his footwear as black socks would deliver too much of a clash to effectively continue the leg lines of his white striped suit trousers.
Matsunada wears a diamond ring on the third finger of his right hand.
When next we see Matsunaga, he’s wearing an evolved version of the same outfit… a light striped double-breasted jacket worn with a striped shirt, boldly striped tie, and spectator shoes. You can read about that outfit in my post from August 2018.
What to Imbibe
Let’s be friends… have some of the good stuff.
Matsunaga and Dr. Sanada crack a bottle of Nikka Whisky, a Japanese brand that gets plenty of exposure throughout Drunken Angel.
The Nikka Whisky Distilling story begins in 1918 when Masataka Taketsuru arrived in Scotland to learn how to distill whiskey from the best. After two years of apprenticeships, study, and marriage to Rita Cowan of Kirkintilloch, Taketsuru returned to Japan in November 1920, where he took a job at the distillery that would eventually produce Japan’s first single malt whisky, Suntory.
The ambitious Taketsuru, however, had bigger dreams. Scouting his country, he determined that the northern island of Hokkaido was the most similar region to Scotland, and he opened his distillery there in the coastal town of Yoichi on July 2, 1934.
Centuries later, Nikka remains a top-selling producer of Japanese whiskey, second only to Suntory. Although Rita’s marriage to Taketsuru met with disapproval from her family at the time, her hometowns of Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, are now sister cities with Yoichi, which honors Taketsuru’s devoted wife with its its central thoroughfare “Rita Road”.
How to Get the Look
Matsunaga dresses to stand out, eschewing both convention and common sartorial logic in a bold summer ensemble that pays tribute to the range of stripes available to a gent.
- White subtly striped suit
- Double-breasted 4-on-1 jacket with wide straight-gorge peak lapels, padded shoulders, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Pleated trousers with side pockets and turn-ups/cuffs
- Complex-striped shirt with semi-spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, and mitred button cuffs
- Vertical-striped silk tie
- Brown-and-tan apron-toe spectator derby shoes
- Dark brown socks
- Diamond ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Coincidentally, this is the second BAMF Style post in a row to feature someone wearing a cast on their left wrist! (See Steve McQueen…)