Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SPOTLIGHT: Scandal (1950)

Another Akira Kurosawa slow-burner released 60 years ago, this is lighter-weight-Kurosawa - which still means quite a chunk of substance.

An indictment of tabloid journalism the year before Billy Wilder’s much more hostile Ace in the Hole and possibly autobiographical in some content, Scandal (醜聞, Shūbun) tells the tale of a chance encounter and a photo taken by a paparazzo at a mountain resort that leads to a fabricated gossip magazine story and resultant legal battle.

Toshiro Mifune plays one of the two innocents caught up in the affair: Honest artist Ichirô Aoye, a debonair type with a penchant for pipe-smoking and motorcycles. Although he plays it straighter here than most of his other roles, it’s a treat to see hints of Mifune's later trademark tics and mannerisms drift into the performance; Aoye may also indeed be the actor's most likable part - if a little straight and bland.

Takashi Shimura, in the role of seemingly dodgy attorney-at-law Hiruta, puts in a performance both seemingly familiar yet at odds with Kenji Watanabe – the painfully humble, barely audible public servant he would play two years later in Kurosawa’s acclaimed Ikiru (To Live).

Here he’s all bluster, ramble and smelly feet, but beneath the verbosity and a struggle with inner demons is a man with a dying daughter who’s his best conscience. The man may have a destitute rooftop office with the pigeons and the laundry, but there is an honest bone in there.

Noriko Sengoku puts in another spot-on performance as Aoye’s life-model and best friend Sumie, while Yoko Katsuragi is ethereal in the role of Hiruta’s daughter Masako.

There are moments reminiscent of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Sidney Lumet's The Verdict, but as with most Kurosawa films this really is its own creature.

Personally, while I enjoyed the experience but I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is one of Kurosawa's stand-out pictures.

Perhaps the weakest link is Yoshiko Yamaguchi, aka Shirley Yamaguchi, who appeared two years later in King Vidor's Japanese War Bride.

In this film she isn’t given much to work with in the role of Miyako Saijo, the other participant in the “scandal” - but at least she gets to sing a lot.

1950 Shochiku Co. Ltd.

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