Undoubtedly one of master film-maker Akira Kurosawa’s lesser-known works, this 1960 film is nevertheless an enthralling 145-minute drama of Shakespearean (being loosely based on Hamlet) proportions – part-industrial espionage thriller, part-family 'soap opera’ – and translated to the screen with such cinematic verve as only Kurosawa (and perhaps a select handful of other film-makers) could. Given the film’s subject matter and its setting of a 'modern-day western’ country (in this case, post-WW2 Japan), it is perhaps tempting to think that The Bad Sleep Well could even have been a US-based Hollywood drama. However, not only does the film have the stamp of Kurosawa’s rare visual sense – delivering the film’s (at times, noir-like) mise-en-scène and stunning framing courtesy of Yuzuru Aizawa’s cinematography – but the film’s central dilemma of family vs. company loyalty ('He’s not a man, he’s an official’) is firmly rooted in the director’s own national heritage.
It being a Kurosawa film of this vintage, we also have a veritable who’s who of Japanese cinema of the time lining up to impress, at the head of which is (of course) Toshiro Mifune’s cool, calculating Nishi, newly-married into the wealthy family of Masayuki Mori’s construction tycoon, Iwabuchi, and seeking to expose the company’s corrupt practices. The film’s opening 20 minutes depicting Nishi’s elaborate wedding reception is its showpiece sequence – as Kurosawa stunningly marshals a large ensemble cast of wedding-goers, hitting on his themes of social convention and personal disgrace as Koji Mitsui’s mocking journalist and his sidekicks look on (with Strauss and Mendelssohn playing ironically in the background). The use here of a ‘planted’ wedding cake representing the company HQ, on which is marked the window from which an executive threw himself, is a particular stroke of genius. Thereafter, we’re into Kurosawa (and his fellow writers’) twisting and turning narrative as the surreptitious Nishi begins to sow seeds of doubt (and potential guilt) in the minds of the corrupt trio of 'company men’ – the arrogant, ruthless Iwabuchi, Takashi Simura’s Moriyama and Akira Nishimura’s fawning Shirai – prompting attempted suicides and nervous breakdowns (the latter brilliantly conveyed by the increasingly gaunt, zombie-like Nishimura). Kurosawa, via Mifune’s impressive, emotionally restrained performance here, also plays up nicely Nishi’s dilemma between exposing Iwabuchi’s corruption and his increasing affection for his ostensible 'trophy wife’, Kyoko Kagawa’s crippled Yoshiko (a 'weakness’ that eventually leads to Nishi’s undoing).
Despite its length and potentially dry subject matter (Kurosawa’s eye for the forensic detail of corporate corruption is impressive throughout) The Bad Sleep Well never loosens its tense narrative grip (well certainly not on this viewer, anyway). In this respect, the film’s mood called to my mind other 'espionage-type’ thrillers – from the likes of All The Presidents Men to (even) The Ipcress File. Kurosawa’s film also has more than its fair share of surprising twists, not least of which is its final stark denouement. A highly impressive film and one that for me would sit in the upper echelons of works from this deservedly lauded film-maker.
I came to the films of Akira Kurosawa through his Samurai films, the Seven Samurai, Sanjuro, Yojimbo etc, when I had exhausted these I turned to his more contemporary films and I was not disappointed with what I found as they are just as good.
Kurosawa wanted to make a film of Social significance for this he chose to look at corruption hiding behind the faceless Japanese Corporations and show the more powerful you are the more corrupt you are.
Basically this is a story of revenge, very much based on Hamlet, it revovles around Toshiro Mifune's character who plots revenge against those who were to blame for the death of his father. He does this by by infiltrating the ranks of the Public Corporation,then cynically marries the President's daughter in order to expose all the conspirators.
The whole film starts at the wedding, this is a wonderful start to the film as we get to meet all the characters of the piece almost all in one go, and we gain an understanding of what has transpired and with the arrival of the extra wedding cake which is a copy of the Public Corporation building with the window Mifunes dead father jumped from to his so called 'suicide' highlighted with a rose we get to see at first hand who the guilty parties are from glances and looks of panic and terror.
Francis Ford Coppola said, it was as perfect a first thirty minutes to a film he has ever seen'
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this film to anyone it's a great piece of cinema from one of the all time great Director's.
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Kurosawa and Mifune come together in this classic tale of revenge. Mifune infiltrates a family to avenge the forced suicide of his father. The plot slowly builds like a spaghetti western. Some critic unfairly pan the film because of its introduction which they feel is out of synch. However the introduction introduces Mifune's character Nishi and his surface motives into the story. There is an interesting parallel between the witches in Hamlet and the journalists in the opening scene of the film and their dicussions which move the plot along.
The negative effects of the media were also echoed in other Mifune films
Akira Kurosawa is one of my favourite director's. I'm a big fan of his samurai films - The Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai. But this to me is his best, for one it's set in the modern day, where as the majority of his films are period movies. This is an exciting thriller - a tale of greed,corruption and revenge, which some critics say owes to Hamlet. The film stars Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune as Nishi a secretary for the head(who is also his father-in-law)of a large building corporation. I won't say anymore as not to ruin any of the twists. Needless to say I love this film and along with Kurosawa's excellent kidnap thriller High and Low represents him at his contemporary movie best. The video is presented in tohoscope widescreen to retain his excellent compositions.
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Watched this as part of BFI's Kurosawa Crime Collection. It states on the packaging that it's 105 mins, but ran for 145. Every film listing has it running at a different length. Amazon list it at 135m, IMDB at 151m and Radio Times on-line at 127m. Whichever way you look at it, it's a pretty long feature.
There's plenty of twists and turns to fill that length and whilst one thinks one's keeping up with the plot, it twists again. I couldn't help muttering "leave it at that!" as it turns yet another corner.
Toshiro Mifune, as always, gets top billing but he's not the main character. It's generally older actors, one being the chief inspector in Kurosawa's earlier Stray Dog, that play various businessmen and corporate bigwigs. The corruption and legal wranglings seemed largely feasible and often fascinating. At most times it's engaging as well as involving and thus enjoyable. It did remind of the sort of U.S dramas of the '50s, where say, Henry Fonda would have starred.
I understand that The Bad Sleep Well flopped in its native country and whilst accomplished and well directed (& requiring 5 screenwriters), this departure from his usual fare was a mistake for Kurosawa. I would really have liked to award 3 & three quarter stars.
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