Akira Kurosawa is not only one of the best Japanese directors, but he is also one of the best directors anytime, anywhere, period. His films are extremely influential, as well as being immensely entertaining. Every time I watch one of his movies I am amazed to see the different film influences of the world being brought together to create a mixture of the filmmaking community that is truly revolutionary. His films also have the rare distinction of being completely timeless. Recently I watched his 1960, crime drama film The Bad Sleep Well, and I was overwhelmed by a gripping tale, and the immense beauty in which it was filmed. The storyline is a bit involved, and if described in too much detail, some of the plot details will take away from the viewing of the film itself. With that being said I will attempt to be brief enough to peak the curiosity of someone who has not yet seen this film, without ruining anything for a the first time viewers.
Kurosawa favorite, Toshiro Mifune, plays the films protagonist, Nishi. The movie opens at the wedding reception of Nishi and Yoshiko (Kyoko Kagawa), who happens to be the daughter of his boss, Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori). During the reception many reporters arrive and begin asking questions about the company where most of the wedding guests work because there has recently been an arrest of one of the company’s higher ranked employees. Then when the cake is brought out for the newly married couple, the guests are shocked to see a cake that is an exact replica of their office building, with a rose placed in the window of an employee’s office who committed suicide in that office five years earlier. The appearance of this mysterious cake begins a search for the truth about the corrupt company and the practice of its employees, including their leaders.
To call The Bad Sleep Well a riveting film hardly does it any justice. After the opening wedding scene the film takes off at a deliberate, methodical pace that isn’t filled with action, but rather spends time showing the small details of each character and their own lives. With a running time of two and a half hours, there isn’t anything that Kurosawa left out of his film. He knew exactly how to give the audience a personal interest in the lives of not only the righteous characters, but the villains as well. These characters are spellbinding with their different thoughts on loyalty and justice. All of this is captured in this gritty film that has obviously been heavily influenced by Americas film noir and crime movies from the 1950’s, but still has the Shakespearian tone that so many of Kurosawa’s films contained.
Superbly acted, The Bad Sleep Well is one of 16 collaborations between Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune. Although I have seen several of their films, this particular movie displayed Mifune’s acting ability in a new and brilliant light for me. His depth astounded me as he had the ability to be absorbed by his want and need for truth and justice, as well as his love and compassion for his wife Yoshiko. Also in this film is actor Takashi Shimura, who although he plays just a supporting role, still found a way to steal my attention in so many of his scenes. He has appeared in 21 of Akira Kurosawa’s 30 films and I always feel that he brings a certain emotional peak to his roles that other actors would be unable to obtain. (If you haven’t seen Ikiru (1952), drop everything and watch it immediately, and you will see what I mean.)
The Bad Sleep Well has a unique story that deals with corporate corruption in post-war Japan. The scenes filmed in war-ridden territories are literally heartbreaking to see. The destruction of the film’s location and the emotionally touching ways that the characters speak about their war-time experiences only add to the film’s drama and the individual characters’ need for moving on from their own past.
When comparing The Bad Sleep Well to other films being released around the same time, I found myself noticing the obvious similarity between this film and the Academy Award winning Best Picture from the same year, The Apartment. Now please understand I know that these films are completely different from each other and don’t even attempt to try to be the same type of film, but the dishonesty of the corporate leaders and the ways in which the lower level employees are manipulated and looked down upon struck me as fascinating. Both movies show how the corporate world was taking advantage of their own employees, in order to satisfy their own personal wants and desires. Of course The Apartment shows the bosses as wanting their employee’s apartment for their own sexual escapades, and in The Bad Sleep Well the bosses manipulate their employees into committing suicide to protect themselves from public scrutiny.
The Bad Sleep Well was not nominated for any Academy Awards. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. This isn’t a film that everyone calls a must see or something that is on Roger Ebert list of “Best Movies”. Akira Kurosawa has six films on the most recent list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and this is not one of them either. Perhaps I am missing something. Maybe Kurosawa made so many brilliant films that people find it hard to continuously call so many of them great, but I don’t have that problem. The Bad Sleep Well is a GREAT film. The film is touching and emotional, as well as being remarkably filmed with the perfect amount of excitement and suspense. This is definitely a film that should be talked about and discussed by people who love the art of filmmaking.Back to Home for More Reviews