Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Bad Sleep Well


Dir: Akira Kurosawa ( Kagemusha ; Red Beard ; High and Low ; Ikiru )

Very engaging and original corporate corruption drama. Toshiro Mifune is the secretary and son-in-law to the head of a company involved in illegal public contracts. As the press and the law close in on the scheme, it becomes clear that another party is also tormenting the businessmen, one with darker motives and who intends to toy with his enemies. Imagine "The Firm" meets "Gaslight."

This is the darkest Kurosawa film I have ever seen. Its indictment of Japanese corporate culture is unflinching and devastating. A particular theme is fidelity to superiors and the shame that comes with failure. The movie presents a "thin pinstriped line" view of these organizations, where the worst possible thing is to bring embarassment to the company or one's bosses. The oddly translated title gives a hint as to how the story resolves, a fatalistic reaffirmation of the power of the system.

As one might expect from AK, there are a host of well drawn characters interacting here. The love story, what would in a lesser movie simply be a foil to test the allegiances of people in the story, is here noteworthy as a compelling exploration of the reasons for marriage and the power of pity. All of the major players have compelling motives for doing what they do, and that base allows the story to explore the fringes of obsessive revenge without ever feeling contrived.

Given the current state of business ethics in the United States and throughout the world, the movie also remains impressively relevant. The message of how the public good, and the lives of the pawns in this game, are always ignored in the pursuit of money and power has a bevy of contemporary examples proving its timelessness.

As a window into Japanese themes of duty and shame, as a warning against the unchecked power of corporations, and as a very exciting and original political thriller, I highly recommend The Bad Sleep Well. Yet another testament to Kurosawa's power in a variety of genres.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 4/16/2006 05:36:00 PM that...

One of the few AKs I have yet to see. I assume you got the Criterion version. I assume it is a pretty good transfer.

I like the "thin pinstriped line" phrase, is that an MAP original?  

Blogger paroske noted on 4/17/2006 03:45:00 PM that...

The Thin ____ Line is one of my favorite tropes. I am still taking credit for the Thin Chalk Line on the code of silence in baseball.

The transfer is immaculate. And the sound is great; in one seen two men in car observe a funeral while playing a recording. The balance between the two, fading slightly when something important happens either inside or outside the car, is really well done.

I like Criterion movies.