THE BAD SLEEP WELL
Review by Michael Jacobson
Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyoko Kagawa, Tatsuya Mihashi
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 150 Minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2005
bizarre. Best one-act I've ever
This is just the prelude."
watching The Bad Sleep Well, I was reminded of an old Archie Bunker line
about how Richard Nixon wouldn't have had so much trouble had he hired Japanese
men instead of Germans. Why?
Because if the Japanese get caught, he mused, "they do the right
thing and kill themselves."
is indeed quite prevalent in Akira Kurosawa's noir-ish movie, a tale of
corporate corruption, scandal, tragedy and revenge. It's part Hamlet, part Greek tragedy, and part modern
critique of the post-War business climate in Japan, which probably didn't differ
that much from any other industrialized country's business climate.
The rich and powerful were kings and everyone else was a pawn.
And anyone who plays chess knows what the pawns are used for.
begins with a 20 minute set piece at a wedding reception.
There, we get our first glimpse of Nishi (the always superb Mifune), as
he marries into a giant corporation headed by vice president Iwabuchi (Mori).
His new bride Yoshiko (Kagawa) is crippled, and her brother Tatsuo (Mihashi)
is a friend who also warns Nishi publicly never to make Yoshiko unhappy.
A gathering of tabloid reporters is present, and they serve as a kind of
chorus, giving us the exposition about the company's wheelings and dealings,
including a suicide that took place five years earlier.
The scene has a terrific exclamation point when a second wedding cake is
rolled out: one shaped like the
office building where the death took place, complete with a rose marking the
exact window from which the man jumped!
Nishi marrying for love or power? As
it turns out...neither. As the
story progresses, we learn that he is the illegitimate son of the man who killed
himself. In an elaborate scheme of
revenge, he has changed his identity and managed to claim a spot not only in
Iwabuchi's family, but in his company as well, becoming personal secretary to
his father-in-law. The wheels of
justice have already begun to close in on the corrupt corporation, leading to at
least one more suicide and one that appears to be, but isn't quite what it
delve further into the plot would be to deprive a first-time viewer of the
terrific storyline constructed by Kurosawa and his writers, which is ripe with
suspense, intrigue and surprises. As
in the best of film noir, no character comes across as completely clean.
It isn't exactly good guys versus bad guys, but rather slightly soiled
guys against downright filthy guys.
and Mifune collaborated many times over the course of their careers, and if The
Bad Sleep Well is sometimes thought of as the least of their partnerships,
that's really only a testament to how incredibly great their other films were.
This is a great movie as well...if it pales slightly in comparison to Yojimbo,
Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress or High and Low, face it...you can
say most pictures suffer via that comparison.
proves once again to be one of the greatest film actors ever.
Watch one of his samurai pictures with Kurosawa and then watch this
movie; the difference is astonishing. In
a film with more than a share of melodramatic moments, it's Mifune's quiet,
oft-internalized portrayal of Nishi that gives the movie its pent-up energy.
Kurosawa, regardless of genre, always seems at the top of his game.
His visual style, particularly his command of widescreen and the
excellent use of black and white photography gives The Bad Sleep Well an
authentic feeling of film noir, even if we're dealing with white collar
criminals instead of tough street thugs. It's
not a world of lost souls, lonely dames and hard-edged flatfoots, but a world
that seems surprisingly real even some forty years after the fact.
the only complaint is that there are a handful of moments where the story slows
down for the characters to divulge a little necessary background
information...it occasionally feels a little forced and false.
But Kurosawa is one of cinema's consummate storytellers, so what are we
grumbling about, really? Too much of a good thing?
Bad Sleep Well is taut, character-driven entertainment delivered by one of the medium's
master artists. There's really
nothing more to be said.
anamorphic transfer does the film justice...Kurosawa's black and white
photography is crisp, detailed and never murky, no matter how dark certain
sequences become. Only a smattering
of grain and an occasional image flicker belie the picture's age.
Overall, another triumph for the only studio (in my opinion) that should
be touching Kurosawa's movies for DVD.
audio mix is generally very good, with only bits and pieces of noticeable
background noise. Dynamic range
sounds stronger than average for a single-channel presentation, with music and
sound effects adding much to the overall effect.
disc contains a trailer and an excerpt devoted to The Bad Sleep Well from
"It Is Wonderful to Create", the lengthy documentary series on
Kurosawa. I wonder if Criterion
will ever put that entire documentary together for DVD presentation?
It would be invaluable to cineastes!