Thursday, February 4, 2010

SPOTLIGHT: Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Akira Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well (悪い奴ほどよく眠る, Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru) was the director's first semi-independent production away from the studio system constraints of Toho and Shochiku.

While a scathing indictment of the Japanese bureaucracy - complete with its entwined corporate greed and self-serving political maneuverings - that shaped this country's business and social structure following on from the Allied occupation (and the country's economic miracle thereafter), the plot opening here also rings true to contemporary Japan 50 years on.

After police arrive at a wedding to arrest a corporate assistant officer on charges of bribery in a kickback scheme, newspaper clippings tell a background yarn of suspicious construction fees intermingled with free dinners and billions of yen worth of probable bids rigging; the tale then segues into a familiar Japanese casebook study of secretaries and underlings taking the fall for their major corporation bosses.

The Bad Sleep Well - like Ran and Kumonosu-jō (Throne of Blood) - then draws on Shakespeare, in this case the Bard's Hamlet; there are also moments reminiscent of Michael Clayton.

Toshiro Mifune yet again puts in a powerhouse effort as the restrained, focused Koichi Nishi, a young man who manipulates his own elevation to a prominent position within a corrupt company in order to expose the men responsible for his father's death.

Masayuki Mori (the gentle, naive title character in Kurosawa's earlier film The Idiot) here renounces any sympathetic kindling whatsoever as the despotic vice president of the company in focus.

Also on-screen is Kyoko Kagawa, previously with Mifune in Nippon Tanjo (The Birth of Japan, 1959) as well as one of the highlights of Kurosawa's 1957 film Donzoko (The Lower Depths); she also popped up in Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) and would later appear in the Kurosawa movies Red Beard and High and Low along with the classic kaiju flick Mothra.

Joining them on board a cinematic ride that's as gripping as it is meaningful are Tatsuya Mihashi (whose last role before he passed away - 44 years later, in 2004 - was the kindly, meaningful GP in Casshern) and Kurosawa veteran Takashi Shimura.

Masaru Sato returns on sound track duties; he previously did the score for Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, as well as the later double-act Yojimbo and Sanjuro - and would aurally shine in 1974 on Jun Fukuda's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

His score here is superb.

Viewing DVD thanks to Madman Entertainment Australia
© 1960 Toho Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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