THE BAD SLEEP WELL

(Japanese title: Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru)

(1960 - Japan)
With Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Kyoko Kagawa, Tatsuya Mihashi, Ko Nishimura,
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

     Akira Kurosawa's indictment of corporate and government corruption, wrapped up in a noirish thriller, THE BAD SLEEP WELL is one of the director's best-looking films with much to recommend it, yet too problematic to stand up with his best work.

Corporate corruption? This is a job for Superman!     Toshiro Mifune gives a terrific, restrained performance as the secretary of a corrupt corporate executive.  The master of playing violent samurai, he is the spitting image of Clark Kent in this film, and does a splendid job playing against type.  Masayuki Mori (star of Kurosawa's THE IDIOT) is also good as the evil vice-president who covers up scandals via murder and induced suicide, while Takashi Shimura is excellent as always in a small but meaty part as another corrupt executive, his most memorable role since SEVEN SAMURAI.

     THE BAD SLEEP WELL also shows Kurosawa's mastery of the widescreen Tohoscope format and the ease with which he incorporates the cinematic conventions of American firmfilm noir into his own unique style.  For at least an hour, the film is a relentless thriller as Mifune systematically drives one corporate underling completely mad, culminating in a scene in which an increasingly scary Mifune gives the underling two choices - jump out a seventh-floor window or drink poisoned whiskey.

     But the negatives keep this film from being all it can be.  A suspense thriller like this needs to be tight, an impossibility at two and a half hours.  The screenplay is often talky and filled with exposition, providing us with important background information that could have been relayed in more cinematic ways.  Some vital action takes place offscreen, with characters filling in other characters (and us) on what happened, and melodrama and dramatic overkill overtakes the action and dialogue near the end of the film.  The story itself, although often clever and exciting, is convoluted and confusing, especially when Kurosawa waits until the film is two-thirds over before revealing certain key plot points.

     Still, the best parts of THE BAD SLEEP WELL, including an opening wedding scene in which all the major players are introduced, and a strange and memorable wedding cake is wheeled in, make it worthy of watching for entertainment and studying for its artistic qualities, and for enjoying Toshiro Mifune in one of his least characteristic roles. - JB

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