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SCANDAL (SHUBUN)(director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriter: Ryuzo Kikushima; cinematographer: Toshio Ubukata; cast: Toshirô Mifune (Ichiro Aoye), Takashi Shimura (Hiruta), Yôko Katsuragi (Masako, Hiruta’s daughter), Yoshiko Yamaguchi (Miyako Saijo), Eitarô Ozawa (Hori); Runtime: 104; Entertainment Marketing Corp. / Shochiku / Takashi Koide; 1950-Japan)
“This is an awkward comedy made just before Kurosawa’s breakthrough film, Rashomon.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is an awkward comedy made just before Kurosawa’s breakthrough film, Rashomon. It was released in the West 30 years later. It is about a headstrong young artist, Ichiro Aoye (Mifune). He is painting in a remote mountain vacation spot when three peasant bystanders look over his shoulder and he explains to them how his art comes from what he feels inside. Miyako Saijo (Yamaguchi) approaches the men and tells them she missed her bus. When the attractive, demure, and famous concert singer is told that she has to walk two miles to town, she accepts a ride on Mifune’s motorbike and checks into the same hotel he is staying at. Before he leaves the mountain spot he finishes his painting by changing the color of the mountain to red, feeling inspired by her presence.

At the hotel, Ichiro innocently comes into Miyako’s room to talk and when they step out on the balcony a scandal tabloid magazine, Amour, takes a compromising photo of them both in bathrobes standing together. The tabloid writes a false story saying they are lovers.

Mifune is indignant that the scandal magazine refuses to retract their story and is not pleased with the publicity, even though his art exhibition is now well attended. The moralistic artist decides to sue the magazine and its slimy publisher Hori (Ozawa). Saijo shuns the publicity and tells her manager she would like to cancel her next concert, even though it is sold out. She feels bad that people are coming solely because of the scandal.

Into the picture enters a wormy lawyer, Hiruta (Shimura), and pleads with Mifune to hire him to fight to protect his name. Mifune’s model can’t believe he would hire a loser like him to take the case, but Mifune says he has honest eyes.

When Mifune visits his impoverished home he finds there is only the lawyer’s angelic young daughter, Masako (Katsuragi), home in bed as she tells him she has TB. He sees all the racing forms in the house, but is convinced that Hiruta must be a good man because he has such a good daughter. He feels that the lawyer has probably fallen onto bad times and can’t help himself but if given a chance to choose between good and evil, will make the correct choice.

But Hiruta is not reliable, as he explains himself by saying people used to take advantage and laugh at his weaknesses so he now uses trickery and doesn’t care about ethics. The film switches tracks, as the two leads are not particularly interesting types; but, the flawed Hiruta makes for a more compelling story, so he becomes the main focus. He’s a drunk. When he visits Hori he recognizes him for a vile person, but allows himself because of his weak character to be bought off by him.

The dying Masako suspects her father of betraying Mifune and can’t face the kind-hearted artist, knowing that her father will purposefully lose the libel suit. The courtroom story is filled with contrivances, as the story befits a tacky soap opera. The lawyer is shown dumping the case while the villain publisher is smirking with contempt at his apparent victory and to top things off, Masako dies and her last words are for her father to win the case for Mifune (you know, like win one for the Gipper!). You can’t beat that for pouring on the goo!

Supposedly this film is a parody of the Japanese willingness to accept America’s foreign culture as theirs. Therefore the Christmas music, such as Silent Night, is played as the trial takes place emphasizing how after Japan’s defeat in the wake of World War 11 it has become completely westernized. Kurosawa cynically shows how the naive but innocent plaintiffs stand little chance in a court of law that can’t look at them and know that they are innocent, as even the courtroom has become Americanized.

Kurosawa is an overrated director when not shooting an action film, as he can’t shoot a dramatic film without being too sentimental. Here he has Mifune and the concert singer become sexless lovers, while the publisher becomes a cardboard villain. The lawyer’s fall and redemption are just too predictable to have any effect. There is something caustic in this story, but its overall effect is ruined by too much that is an obvious delineation of what is good and evil. The immoral lawyer can be redeemed according to Kurosawa because he has a goodness in him and is not an evil man — he is just a weak man. While the innocent couple are the soul of Japan. I found the message awkwardly delivered and unconvincing, and the acting was mechanical and not instinctive. It was as if all the actors attended a school for bad actors and learned to act by being didactic. This film hardly had a pulse, just a message it kept sending out in a not too subtle way.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”