Following World War II, a retired professor, approaching his autumn years, finds his quality of life drastically reduced in war torn Tokyo. Denying despair, he pursues writing and celebrates his birthday with his adoring students.
An elderly woman living in Nagasaki Japan takes care of her four grandchildren for their summer vacation. They learn about the atomic bomb that fell in 1945, and how it killed their ... See full summary »
Kameda, who has been in an asylum on Okinawa, travels to Hokkaido. There he becomes involved with two women, Taeko and Ayako. Taeko comes to love Kameda, but is loved in turn by Akama. When Akama realizes that he will never have Taeko, his thoughts turn to murder, and great tragedy ensues. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Filmed as a two-part production running 265 minutes. Shochiku (the studio) told Akira Kurosawa that the film had to be cut in half, because it was too long; he told them, "In that case, better cut it lengthwise." The film was released truncated at 166 minutes. See more »
Books are not like movies, but they have more similarities than at first meets the eye. Just as a novelist can focus us entirely on one object or one person, a film director can use the close-up for the same effect. Alternatively a director can use a long shot to describe a setting, or select angles to give us one characters point of view, all of which brings cinema closer to the novel than it does to a stage play, which cannot give us such controlled focus. And just as a good novel will make careful use of language to give tone or atmosphere, a good film will do the same with lighting, sound design, cutting and so forth. Probably the biggest difference however is one of overall structure. Whereas books are designed to be picked up and put down, digested over a period of time, a motion picture is supposed to be enjoyed in a single sitting, and as such must tell its story in a smooth and succinct manner. This is where Akira Kurosawa fell down in his ambitious line-for-line adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot.
Considered one scene at a time, the style in which The Idiot is filmed demonstrates how the shots and scenes of cinema can work like the sentences and paragraphs of a novel. Kurosawa uses a plain, direct approach, close to the action, with few props or elaborate backgrounds to distract from the people just as Dostoevsky's words focus us on people and what they do rather than bothering with elaborate descriptions of places. He makes a lot of use of intensely emotional close-ups, just as a sentence or two in a book might be devoted entirely to depicting someone's reaction, without distracting us with whatever else may be going on in the room. What little business there is going on apart from the actors is generally minimalist and for purposes of mood, for example a light sprinkling of snow around Masayuki Mori as he looks at Setsuko Hara's picture, or the eerie chimes at the Akama residence.
It wasn't often during their period working together that Kurosawa would not cast Toshiro Mifune in the lead role. He would only cast someone else when it was really necessary, and this is one such case. It's hard to imagine the brash Mifune as the titular idiot, whereas Masayuki Mori is perfectly meek, doing everything with an acute look of sensitivity. The only trouble with Mori is that he isn't credible enough, and is little more than a caricature of self-effacing timidity. Female lead Setsuko Hara was a big star in Japan and will be familiar to Yasujiro Ozu fans. However I find her a little hammy here, and some of those grimaces she pulls look absurd. Mifune himself plays a supporting role, and although he plays quite a wild and exaggerated character, he does at least give the part an entertaining intensity. The other supporting roles are not bad either, with some calm and mannered turns from Takashi Shimura and Chieko Higashiyama.
While individual bits of Hakuchi may come close to the spirit of Dostoevsky's original, the problem lies in the bigger picture. Because Kurosawa's original literal adaptation of every portion of the novel ran for over four hours, it's clear some truncation was needed. However this is a process that should have begun while the movie was still in pre-production. As it is whole chunks of narrative have been removed, sometimes replaced by text, other times with inexplicable jump cuts. Rather than cutting down the number of sequences, the editing job seems to have pared each sequence down to its highlights. The picture is so stop-start, the neat flow of Kurosawa's images is spoiled. We don't really feel we get to know characters, and while the plot just about makes sense it seems incredibly fragile and disjointed. It's not that an abridged form of a novel is unacceptable for a motion picture, just that it has to be done in a way in which it still has continuity and meaning. Instead, this looks like a half-finished project, and yet at 166 minutes it is still long enough to be wearingly tedious. Ironically, the 265 minute full cut, while certainly being a bit of a strain on the old buttocks, would probably have moved far faster.
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