Jan. 29, 2009

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Grade: 69/100

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyôko Kagawa

What it's about. Set in Japan. The Dairyu Corporation is rotten at its core. The firm won a lucrative contract through government bribes, and top executives were handsomely rewarded. We never meet the corporate head, but Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) has day to day command. He is an elderly rascal. His right hand man is Moriyama (Takashi Shimura, Kurosawa's favorite supporting actor), who is nearly as cagey as Iwabuchi. Next on the totem pole is Shirai (Kô Nishimura) and Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara), prized for their corporate loyalty but nonetheless subject to remorse over their actions.

Five years ago, these men successfully conspired to have Furuya, a company man implicated in the contract scandal, jump to his death from a hotel window. Furuya's illegitimate son, Nishi (Toshirô Mifune, Kurosawa's favorite leading actor) vowed revenge. He switched citizenship papers with close friend Itakura (Takeshi Katô) maneuvered his way into Dairyu as Iwabuchi's secretary, and married his innocent, lame daughter Keiko (Kyôko Kagawa). Keiko's protective brother is immature alcoholic Tatsuo (Tatsuya Mihashi).

Now it is time for Nishi to act. He turns Wada to his side, drives the guilt-ridden Shirai to madness, kidnaps Moriyama, and finally, gets the goods on Iwabuchi. Nishi's triumph is near, and he might even keep his wife, whom he has grown to care for despite his contempt for her diabolical father. But Nishi has fatally underestimated Iwabuchi's degree of cunning and corruption.

How others will see it. After an interesting wedding sequence, the film begins slowly. The story doesn't really get rolling until Shirai is kidnapped. The Bad Sleep Well is also obscure relative to Kurosawa's most famous films, such as The Seven Samurai. Nonetheless, user ratings are extremely high, although women under 18 and over 45 are less appreciative. That specific demographic was a weakness for Kurosawa throughout his film career.

How I felt about it. Akira Kurosawa ranks among the greatest and most consistent film directors. He was more consistent than Alfred Hitchcock, or even Stanley Kubrick. All that keeps Kurosawa from status as the greatest director of all time is that his best films are not quite in the league of the best work of the two aforementioned Hollywood filmmakers.

The Bad Sleep Well is not up to the level of Kurosawa's best, but it is an increasingly engrossing film. Its chief weakness is the story, which has several holes in it. For example, Wada escapes from Nishi and Itakura to convince the closely monitored Keiko to visit her by now estranged and condemned husband. Keiko is then allowed to return home! Those actions of all four characters are difficult to accept.

The culture of 1960 Japan is admittedly much different than 2009 U.S.A. Admittedly, housing is presumably scarcer. Nonetheless, it is curious that Iwabuchi's two grown children still live with him, along with his daughter's husband.

Nishi seems to know exactly when and where Wada will try to commit suicide. But it is doubtful that he would be told this, since such information would only be between Iwabuchi, Moriyama, and Wada.

Nishi's plan is to get mid-level Dairyu officials such as Wada and Shirai to spill the beans on their superiors. But this is plan is fiendishly difficult to accomplish, because the executives are brainwashed to defend their company, even at the cost of their lives. It would be easier for Nishi to simply enact personal revenge on Iwabuchi, the most culpable in Furuya's death, especially since the two live in the same house. Nishi wants revenge on the company, since he believes it, as much as its executives, are at fault.