Thursday, March 4, 2010

#319: The Bad Sleep Well

(Akira Kurosawa, 1960)

One thing first: if you haven't seen this movie and are thinking of watching it, DO NOT READ CRITERION'S DESCRIPTION OF THE MOVIE ON THE DVD. I think it rather pointlessly gives away a key plot point that isn't revealed until halfway into the movie.

A film somewhere between the bureaucratic stalemate of Ikiru and the thrilling social warfare of High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well does not reach the heights of either film. However, it's still a good movie with a unique and fascinating structure. The film's perspective shifts countless times throughout the movie, from a gaggle of pressmen that calls to mind other Greek choruses in Kurosawa's oeuvre to a careless playboy up through a guilty mid-level bagman, driven crazy at the expense of those above and below him. The indirect way in which we meet the main character, played again by Toshiro Mifune (quickly becoming one of my favorite actors ever), is matched only by the way in which we learn of his fate.

In fact, the movie treats all of its characters as if they are already lost, and their only purpose is to expose the hypocrisy of the system they depict. It's a cynical movie, one that rejects many of the most famous principles of Japanese culture. It's also probably the darkest Kurosawa film I've seen, which is saying quite a lot after High and Low and The Lower Depths. Still, I wasn't as invested in the plot as I was watching High and Low. That movie's divided halves were both fascinating and suspenseful in their own ways, while this film's multiple segments were more hit and miss. Still, I would highly recommend the film to anyone who likes Kurosawa's modern films.

Also, this has to be one of the all-time great Criterion covers. So evocative, so memorable, and perfect for the film.

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