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Reviews & Ratings for
The Idiot More at IMDbPro »Hakuchi (original title)

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31 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Fragmentary masterpiece

Author: Michael Kerpan (kerpan) from New England
22 May 2003

Currently clocking in at a mere 2.75 hours -- following the lopping off of 100 minutes from Kurosawa's (unreleased) original version -- this barely scratches the surface of the plot of Dostoevsky's tremendous novel. Kurosawa modernizes the story and moves it from Russia in summer to Hokkaido in winter. The great Russian director Grigori Kozintsev thought this film captured the spirit of the novel remarkably well -- and who am I to disagree. I seriously wonder whether someone unfamiliar with the novel could follow this film, in its currently disjointed state -- but for those who know and love Dostoevsky's story (and characters), this film is a delight and a revelation. By and large, the actors do a remarkable job of capturing the essence of Dostoevsky's cast. I simply cannot imagine a more suitable Rogozhin (Akama in the film) than Toshiro Mifune -- especially when watching him "merely" standing in the background looking like a bomb ready to explode. Next most convincing was Chieko Higashiyama as Satoko, Ayako's mother not Takeko's as IMDB incorrectly records (Elizaveta Prokofyevna Yepanchin in the novel). This "Edith Bunker as Russian noblewoman" character has always been one of my favorite Dostoevsky creations -- and CH gets every aspect of the character right. Setsuko Hara as Taeko (Natalia Fillipovna) and Yoshiko Kuga as Ayako (Aglaya Ivanovna) are wonderful, as is Takashi Shimura as Ono, Ayako's father (General Yepanchin). Masayuki Mori as Kameda (Prince Myshkin, the eponymous hero of the tale) is hard to assess -- as the "idiot" role is hard to envision. I am not certain that he is the perfect Myshkin, but he is certainly a touching one.

Interlinked with the extraordinarily fine acting, is Kurosawa's tremendous direction here (or what's left of it). I recently also saw an otherwise fine Russian version of "Crime and Punishment", which failed to capture the richness of tone of the novel, missing every trace of any sort of humor (an essential element of the book). Kurosawa, on the other hand, managed to ricochet from melodrama to humor to tragedy without missing a beat -- sometimes within the bounds of a single shot. Frankly, I never would have thought this possible. Another interesting facet of the direction here -- this often looked more like a silent film from the 20s or 30s than a film of the 50s.

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32 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

Dark, Disturbing, Haunting and Beautiful

Author: yippeiokiyay from United States
16 January 2006

One of Kurosawa's least-seen films is "The Idiot". The film is set in Hokkaido, the northernmost area of Japan. Deep snow covers the earth, and is shoveled into barriers, seeps in through the ruins of a warehouse in great drifts, piles up against the windows in crescents, howls fiercely as Toshiro Mifune's character and Matsayuki Mori's "Prince Myishkin" step foot off a train into a blizzard.

Dostoevsky's great novel is the resource material.The Prince Myishkin character is Christ-like in the novel, and, as transplanted to Japan may be seen as a Boddhisatva-like character (an Avalokiteshvara or Kanon-a saint of compassion). Matsayuki Mori does an amazing job of portraying a damaged but compassionate that feels deeply the pain of those he encounters, and who speaks the truth simply, with a pure heart and an awareness of suffering. In one scene, he holds Toshiro Mifune's face between his small, gentle hands, and there is such a tender sensibility, his hands seem to communicate love and absorb the pain of Mifune's character. It is a breathtaking moment.

Toshiro Mifune is brilliantly cast as the thuggish suitor who vies with Mori for the soul of the beautiful and doomed Taeko Nasu character played with uncharacteristic drama by Setsuko Hara.

This complex, rich, layered, frightening, deeply disturbing film has been under-appreciated from the outset-beginning with the studio, which cut the film drastically (Kurosawa was outraged! *see trivia). Japanese audiences didn't understand or like the film, and other audiences have found it weird. Some of this relates directly to Donald Richie's seminal work on Kurosawa and his conclusion that "The Idiot" was a failure. Unfortunately, Richie's conclusion seems to have put replaced the nails in "The Idiot's" coffin with screws. It's very hard to pry open the film.

Sure, it is a weird film...that's what is so interesting. Kurosawa has made one of the most powerfully strange films, while stretching the range of his actors (have you ever imagined you would see Setsuko Hara like this? She's terrifying in her desperation and pain!) giving the scenes a grounded reality, and allowing us to enter into the lives of these tragic, doomed souls.

This is one of the finest films of world cinema, although one of the least-viewed.

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17 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

265-minute version

Author: lsaul-2 from Tucson, Arizona
20 July 2004

jonr-3 from Kansas City wonders if the 265-minute version will ever be released.

The answer is a definitive NO because every frame of unreleased footage no longer exists anywhere in any form.

It's a shame, because the film -- fascinating and electrifying as it is in its present form -- would probably have been one of the greatest examples of intertextual cinema of all time had it survived!

One can easily imagine what we're missing simply by examining the way that the initial scene on the train plays out as Mori explains his dream about nearly being executed to Mifune -- and then we are presented with a jarringly disturbing cut to a long intertitle, which basically seems to explain what was cut out by the studio execs [as do the many intertitles which follow]...

Kurosawa's hero-worship of Doestoevsky may be compared to his similar adoration of Gorky and his play "The Lower Depths" -- which is faithfully adapted in the 1957 filmic version -- and although it is much shorter than the tale told by The Idiot {sorry, couldn't resist!}, this reverence in no way makes the film boring or inferior. Just compare it to the 1936 Renoir version (which is quite good in many ways in its own right) to see how this faithfulness pays off...

Read the Doesty and then watch the film and fill in the blanks yourself. Kurosawa's filmic blueprint provides plenty of clues to how the missing footage might have been incorporated into this extremely underseen masterpiece.

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15 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

The imposed edit of this movie makes it impossible to rate.

Author: Shoikan Reloaded from Madrid
14 May 2005

Although severely mutilated, this film still distillates the genius of Kurosawa, unfortunately the artistic decisions are still made by the people who have the money, not by the people who have the talent.

For the people who have read Dostoievski's "The Idiot", I think this film will be an amazing experience. For the rest the movie probably won't be very clear, because the studio edited off over an hour of footage, which obviously crippled the movie.

That was the luck which Kurosawa's "The Idiot" ran. And many of other films too.


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18 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

Difficult but worth seeing

Author: jonr-3 from Kansas City, Missouri, USA
26 April 2004

I wonder if the original 265-minute version (see "trivia") will ever be released on DVD? It seems to me that out of respect for Mr. Kurosawa, arguably the greatest filmmaker who's ever lived, it should be done if at all possible. If only I were a billionaire...

I found the film very difficult to follow, probably in part because of the extensive cutting (which is obvious in a few places), but also because, to my shame, I've never read the Dostoevski novel, though I started on it many years ago.

But the film is worth watching, despite the considerable difficulties it may pose, if only for the extraordinary--I won't say acting, but perhaps PRESENCE will do--of Toshiro Mifune, and the very fine acting by virtually all the other cast members. And of course for the magnificent visual compositions by this unsurpassable master of film, Akira Kurosawa.

And perhaps most important: for the moral tone of the film. I reverence Kurosawa not only for his amazing skill, but above all for his moral preoccupation. Without being preachy, in film after film he reminds us of the things that are really important in our lives and in our relationships with others. Very few filmmakers seem, especially nowadays, to care about that. I believe Kurosawa was a master not only of film but of life itself.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:


Author: crossbow0106 from United States
1 October 2011

Before watching this film, I read the 700 page novel. Obviously, Mr. Kurosawa had to omit characters and even chapters, but he has made a coherent, wonderful and even a little disturbing film about obsession. Kameda (Masayuli Mori) is given a reprieve from being shot by the Americans in Okinawa post war (a good context to begin this film, the book is set in Russia in the 1850's) and goes to relatives in Hokkaido. He sees a portrait of Taeko Nasu (Ms. Hara) and is just struck by it. He meets her and though she was about to give her answer to one man regarding marriage, she asks Kameda, a veritable stranger whom she feels knows her, to make the decision and he says no. She runs off with Akama (Mr. Mifune) and Kameda follows. Also in the mix is the young, very pretty Ayako (Yoshiko Kuga), who may instead be be throed to Kameda. The choices have to be made, but bear in mind Kameda is still beguiled by Taeko. The acting, with many actors you've seen before or since in films of the period from Japan, are all uniformly good, but no one holds a torch to Setsuko Hara's Taeko. Her role is all about expressions and emotions, and she is absolutely perfect. You see her anguish, her foreboding, her sarcasm in every scene. The beautiful Ms. Hara is just amazing in this role, as she was in so many others. If you are ambitious, read the book first and you'll see what a great job Mr. Kurosawa did in adapting and directing this film. Without reading the book, I don't think you'll like it as much but it will definitely hold your interest. Lastly, the term "The Idiot" is more about Kameda having fits (somewhat like epilepsy), not being weak of mind. One of Kurosawa's best, Setsuko Hara is phenomenal and it is an excellent adaptation to the classic novel.

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

A beautiful series of set pieces

Author: gkbazalo from Scottsdale, AZ
1 May 2002

Masayuki Mori, the slain husband from Roshomon, is fantastic as Kameda, a pure and simple, yet insightful, man who remains mentally frail after recovering from a breakdown. The film chronicles his relationships with two very different women, both in love with him, and with the volatile and violent Akama, a perfect part for Toshiro Mifune. Prior to reading the novel, I found the plot disjointed and difficult to follow. I think this film is best appreciated as a series of set pieces. The interaction among the players in each scene is completely absorbing as Kameda, through his passivity and selflessness, elicits a whole range of emotions from the rest of the cast. Minoru Chiaki, the woodchopper samurai from Seven Samurai, has a small but absolutely riveting role.

The 2003 Russian miniseries by Vladimire Bortko, at nearly 10 hours, captures far more of Dostoyevski's novel than does this film. However, somehow, Kurosawa has been able to capture the essence of the novel. It's a shame that over an hour was cut from the film and is now lost.

Setsuko Hara is tremendous as the "Natassya" character from the novel and Chieko Higashiyama as the "Lizaveta" character. Both are regulars from Ozu films but its unusual to find them together in Kurosawa.

If you have read the novel, you won't have any trouble following the story, even though it has been transposed from czarist Russia to Post-WW II Japan. If you don't know the story, just enjoy the incredible acting and direction of Kurosawa.

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

best of Japanese film

Author: Tashtago from Vancouver, Canada
12 June 2005

I've seen several Kurosawa films but this one is far and above his best. The samurai films all tend to have a unusual amount of over-acting but this modern drama based on Dostoyesky has the same fine natural acting that Ozu has. (the other great film director of the 50s and 60s Japan ) In fact the emotional intensity of this film is almost unbearable as it seems to go from one gut wrenching sequence to the next. Setsuko Hara gives perhaps her greatest performance, certainly it is more layered and has more dimension than most of the work she did with Ozu. In fact this film seems to be Kurosawa's version of "Tokyo Story" utilizing the same low intimate camera angles as that film. The story of a modern day Christlike figure will certainly have the viewer compelled to check their own spirituality and religious believes . A great movie and perhaps the greatest adaptation of a novelist as it perfectly re-creates the claustrophobic brilliance of a Dostoyevsky novel too bad Kurosawa never tackled the "Brother's Karamazov."

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

"Trading charms"

Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
23 November 2010

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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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Taeko's Laughter

Author: frankgaipa from Oakland, California
11 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My first and only previous viewing of Hakuchi came while our local yet world famous Pacific Film Archive was relatively new. I'd been working my way through George Sadoul's Dictionary of Film, naively fantasizing catching everything in it, checking off items I did manage to see, and lucking into complete (or nearly) retrospectives of a number of directors including Renoir, Ray, Mizoguchi, and Kurosawa. The Idiot may have been for me as a reader the most special of the translated Russians and Sadoul's running-time entry for Hakuchi -- "265 mins. (original version); 166 minutes (general release version)" – broke my heart. In the years since, though I haven't actively looked, I've encountered no clue as to the content of the destroyed footage, no hint as to whether anything at all, even memory or hearsay, may remain. Can there be anyone still living who saw the full version? Are there accounts in untranslated Japanese film literature?

The film as it stands strikes me as Kurosawa's most imperfectly realized. Whether he or someone else did the criminal reedit, it begins with disparate scenes linked by narrative intertitles. These intrusions so closely resemble the apologetic substitutions for unrecoverable scenes in recent film restorations that I imagine they represent the cuts. Background and setup seem the most obvious place to have cut. The explosive scene around the fireplace and wad of money, now just bizarre, unsupported, seems precisely where an airhead producer might have begun the film. As the film nears its end, scenes flow into one another with increasing ease. But, really, who knows? What have we lost, if even those delicate later convolutions suffered the knife? Donald Richie, in The Films of Akira Kurosawa, nods at the controversy over the film's length and Kurosawa's failed defense, yet whines about the early intertitles as if they were part of the original design.

Despite all that, the casting of Setsuko Hara as Taeko (Nastasya Filippovna) makes me wonder if the film was doomed anyway. Her beauty, as least in this film, is a cold thing. I recall Nastasya as a flighty, sometimes generous woman able, with varying success, to hide her feelings behind good-natured laughter. Men's verbal ploys and attacks often ratcheted upward her gaiety. As much as beauty, unpredictability drew men to her. We -- I mean men -- both desire and fear beauty, and we both desire and fear women's unpredictability. Taeko's so deliberate nearly always that there's too little explanation left in the film for the other two men's entrancement with her, and too little for Myshkin's. She's so dark and so darkly clothed, almost as if in mourning, so sedate, so prone to miming each thought before she speaks it that she appears fifteen years older than her rival Ayako. No small part of The Idiot is the spontaneity of Nastasya, the irony with which the fight over her turns a fluid creature into an achingly deliberative one. Taeko's silence should resound while the two men mourn her. It doesn't because she never lived anyway in Hakuchi. Did cut scenes destroy Taeko's mirth, imbue in its place this haggard wisdom? Did somebody cut Taeko's laughter?

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