In Kurosawa's HAMLET-like story of corporate scandal in post-war Japan, a young man attempts to use his position at the heart of a corrupt company to expose the men responsible for his father's death. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
Akira Kurosawa's "The Bad Sleep Well" is too dense and frankly too slow a film to qualify as a thriller in the usual sense. Although the elements are there - intrigue, double crosses, revenge, and crimes both naked and invisible - the pacing is too deliberate and there is little real suspense.
Yes, it's "Hamlet," though in a subtle, understated, Japanese way. Some of the characters are left out, but you'll eventually spot the Prince, Horatio, Ophelia, and Claudius. However, unlike his "Macbeth" ("Throne of Blood"), this is only a partial transposition and Kurosawa wisely does not carry the parallels too far.
Although it takes patience, the picture has its rewards. The performances are good, especially Masayuki Mori as the reptilian manipulator Iwabuchi, Kamatari Fujiwara as the hapless accountant Wada, and, as always, Takashi Shimura as master bureaucrat Moriyama. The sharp black-and-white cinematography gives the film a photo-journal aura of authenticity. And Masaru Sato's wonderful opening theme, heavy with menace and unease, certainly sets an appropriate tone.
Toshiro Mifune as Nishi/Hamlet is unusually restrained here, his normal fire largely internalized. He's adequate, but this casting against type doesn't really suit him.
"The Bad Sleep Well" is Kurosawa's attack on Japan's post-war business corruption that apparently was endemic by 1960 and perhaps still is today. His critique is harsh and unsparing, though one can't help but get the feeling that he's shooting at fish in a barrel.
Beyond the corruption of the corporate scandal, which the film literally headlines, is a strong sense of inner decay. Nearly everyone, regardless of their position, is uncomfortable. Even Iwabuchi, for all his power, must answer awkwardly to greater, unseen forces. Only the jackal-journalists who cover the opening wedding banquet seem immune to the pervasive uneasiness.
Yet all, save Nishi, are prepared to accept this state of affairs in return for their security. Ironically, Nishi himself seems most comfortable in an old air raid shelter in the ruins of a munitions plant, his own "castle", as it were, where he fights for honor as he understands it.
Recommended for Kurosawa fans and anyone interested in Japanese psyche, culture, or style. Those expecting a slam-bang 1940s Warner Brothers treatment will be extremely disappointed and probably won't last an hour.
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