BAD SLEEP WELL, THE (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru)

(director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriters: Shinobu Hashimoto/Eijirô Hisaita/Ryuzo Kikushima/Hideo Oguni/from the book by Ed McBain; cinematographer: Yuzuru Aizawa; editor: Akira Kurosawa; music: Masaru Satô; cast: Toshiro Mifune (Koichi Nishi), Masayuki Mori (Iwabuchi), Kyoko Kagawa (Keiko), Tatsuya Mihashi (Tatsuo), Takashi Shimura (Moriyama), Ko Nishimura (Shirai), Takeshi Kato (Itakura), Kamatari Fujiwara (Wada), Chishu Ryu (Nonaka), Tatsuya Mihashi (Tatsuo), Gen Shimizu (Miura); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Akira Kurosawa/Tomoyuki Tanaka; Janus Films; 1960-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

There just seemed to be a missing ingredient to raise this intense psychological drama to the level of a Rashomon.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Akira Kurosawa’s (“Throne of Blood”/”Ran”) attempt at doing a contemporary Hamlet takes on the 1940s American film noir style, but has its mind on other things to fully keep it as noir. It gives Kurosawa, in his first independent production with his short-lived company, a chance to vent about modern day social concerns by showing big business as the bad guys who sleep well. The script is based on a novel by Ed McBain and is deftly handled by Kurosawa and a team of writers that include Shinobu Hashimoto, Eijirô Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima and Hideo Oguni. It’s magnificently shot in black-and-white ‘Scope.

It opens with a splashy wedding of the lame daughter, Keiko (Kyoko Kagawa), of the Unutilized Land Development Corporation’s president Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori), and the upstart bridegroom Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune). He’s the friend of Iwabuchi’s irresponsible playboy son Tatsuo (Tatsuya Mihashi), who rails against his father but nevertheless still enjoys his father’s wealth. Giving a toast, Tatsuo threatens to kill Nishi if he doesn’t treat his sister right, and hopes Nishi married for love and not to advance his career as rumored. Nishi sold his auto dealership and was moved right up the ladder to be Iwabuchi’s private secretary.

Nishi is all about revenge. Not known to anyone, since he has a different name (he illegally switches identities with a man named Nishi and in exchange gives him his real name of Itakura), he’s the illegitimate son of Assistant Chief Furuya who committed suicide five years ago by jumping from one of the company’s buildings. Nishi has learned it was over a graft scandal and hopes to exact revenge on Iwabuchi, his vice president Moriyama (Takashi Shimura) and chief officer Shirai (Ko Nishimura), who forced his estranged dad, who married another woman and abandoned him, but reconciled with him just before the suicide, to take the fall for these big-time crooks that he only played a small part in their corruption scheme.

A wedding cake is sent by an unknown party that shows a replica of an office building and has a rose to mark the spot on the seventh-story window where his father jumped to his death. Also causing a commotion is the arrest at the wedding reception of two of the land company’s low-level executives, Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara) and the accountant Miura (Gen Shimizu), in connection with a bribery scandal. Miura after being grilled by police commits suicide and Wada is about to do the same, but he’s rescued by Nishi and is secretly kept alive to become part of his insane revenge plan.

As Nishi goes after the big shot housing company execs in his unorthodox and ruthless way, Kurosawa has a field day exposing the usual big business dealings that are seen as no different from what racketeers do. It was thrilling but doesn’t reach greatness mainly because much of the revenge is awkwardly carried out and the vengeful hero elicits little sympathy as the good guy. There just seemed to be a missing ingredient to raise this intense psychological drama to the level of a Rashomon.