Film

Kurosawa 101: Day Seven, 1960 - 1962

Today's Kurosawa 101 reviews cover three of his most popular and accessible films Yojimbo and Sanjuro, as well as arguably his most earnest, The Bad Sleep Well.

The Bad Sleep Well
(1960)

The denunciatory, somewhat torturous tone of The Bad Sleep Well may be explained in part by its unique place in Kurasowa's career as the first feature he made through his own production company. Shooting The Hidden Fortress was so expensive and elaborate that he split from Toho; his reputation for expansive projects soon spread and even affected his choice of locales for The Bad Sleep Well. He was always notorious for being scrupulous, and as he embarked upon a more independent career he felt a responsibility to be socially relevant. After the fact, when corporate scandal rocked Japan, he would lament that he had been too timid in his exposé and released the film too early.

As such, it is not merely speculation to say that the movie tackles corruption in high places with a personal zeal. The hero is a young, auspicious secretary (Toshiro Mifune) whose motives in marrying the company president's daughter are not what they seem. His sinister ambitions are rivaled in intensity only by the drama of the events they inspire as one-by-one the upper echelon of company executives are embroiled in a mysterious plot to indict them for their under-the-table dealings.

The film's fixation on evil and the motives that animate it makes for a restrictive viewing experience, to say the least. By the end there is so little hope for the fate of the protagonists that by relaxing even an inch, we are ourselves enmeshed in the crime of complacency charged by the title. No one is spared from disaster, and the oft-lamented anonymity retained by the true villains indeed skews the moral impact of the final sequences. The total oblivion of The Bad Sleep Well suffers in comparison with the troubled damnation of High and Low and the psychological turmoil of Record of a Living Being.

Neither does the movie as a whole stand up to its neighbors and peers in the Kurasowa oeuvre, sandwiched between The Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo, and so it is considered one of his lesser works. Of course, relatively speaking, this 'lesser' does not mean much. The Shakespearean web of betrayal and revenge (many critics and scholars have noted the film’s resemblance to Hamlet, another story in which a son attempts to avenge his dead father) affords the director plenty of chances to twist the knife, as it were, with suggestive editing and bold sound design. Notable sequences, like the super-charged exposition, approach perfection in pace and mood.

There is something aside from Kurasowa's typical technical brilliance, however, that makes the movie interesting. Woven through of many of his films, one finds an exploration of a behavior or a set of values that can often be summed up with one word -- in Rashomon, it is “deception”; in Red Beard, “sacrifice”; in High and Low, “obligation”. In this vein of interpretation, The Bad Sleep Well is a reflection on “obedience”, whether to the authoritarian commands of a superior or to the personal dictates of revenge. As Mifune's character struggles to uphold his principles and preserve his humanity, a question about the grounds of trust and the limits of duty emerges that transcends the film's more didactic moments.

Dylan Nelson

Next Page

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.