The Bad Sleep Well
We come to Kurosawa, the master, the sensei, the legend. The Bad Sleep Well was a movie I'd heard about. I'd even seen a bit of it. But until I saw it now I hadn't appreciated it. Now I love it. It is one of my new, would love to see it again and again, favorites. For those keeping score that list is pretty short even though nearly every film I've seen in the Criterion Collection has been pretty good to really, really good. I only have two other films on that list at this stage, Alambrista! and An Angel at My Table. Now that list has to make room for The Bad Sleep Well.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Kurosawa is one of the godfathers cinematic cool. This man inspired Lucas to make Star Wars. That's how cool he is. Somewhere along the line he discovered how to make movies awesome. There's no other word for it. It's like umami, also a Japanese discovery. It had always existed but Kurosawa just isolated and refined it with his films.
The story isn't as Western friendly as Seven Samurai. Sure it's inspired, loosely by Hamlet, but it has some very Japanese traits. The movie opens with a mini masterpiece. A bevy of reporters gather at a wedding party because several of the guests are expected to be indicted on corruption. During this long scene we are introduced to all the main characters and the basic plot. This exposition is handled in a very realistic way. Why wouldn't reporters share info? The scene ends with an amazing shot. A cake, made into the replica of an office building is wheeled into the party. The building it replicates was the sight of an official's suicide. A red rose is placed on the window from where he jumped. The various guests show their surprise and discomfort. The hero, as yet unidentified has already sprung his trap.
That hero, played by Toshiro Mifune makes his presence known soon enough. He confronts another official about to commit suicide high atop a hill. The scene is as epic as anything in Seven Samurai. The fight against corruption in modern day Japan was one that needed a hero of that magnitude.
Now I've been very spoiler heavy with my reviews here. But really this is a film that is best if you go in knowing nothing. Do not read any further if you want to preserve the ending. It is a stunner.
What really impresses me about this film is that Kurosawa had the guts to kill his hero. And he does it off screen. The saddest deaths are the ones like Robb Stark's, when the hero seems close to fulfilling his goals. This is the case with Mifune's character. He's on the verge of winning and sending his enemies to jail. A few scenes later he's been done away with. This is the coldest ending since The Great Silence a spaghetti western that deserves its own Criterion release.
The only thing Western audiences may struggle with is the culture of corruption depicted here. Here subordinates are willing to commit suicide in order to protect their bosses. It's not something people in America have had to deal with.
If you're a director you need to see this film. The wedding scene alone is a scene that should inspire and excite young filmmakers. The writing is top notch. The cat and mouse game between the hero and the villains is intense and of course the ending is one of the bravest I've ever seen.