Hidden between his
and the classics IKIRU
SAMURAI, THE IDIOT is one of
Kurosawa's least discussed films. An adaptation of
the classic Russian novel by Dostoefsky, reset in postwar Japan, THE
IDIOT has been
disparaged by some of the most famous Kurosawa experts.
Prince (The Warrior's
calls it "amazingly bad" and "as close to an
embarrassingly poor film as he has ever come" while Donald Richie (A Hundred Years of Japanese
describes it as "wildly uneven" and accuses the cast of
overacting. I don't find it as bad as all that, but it is far from my
favorite Kurosawa film.
A pet project of the director, for whom Dostoefsky was his favorite author, THE IDIOT was originally 265 minutes long. Shokichu Studios balked at the length and told Kurosawa they had to cut it in half. ("You 'd better cut it lengthwise", Kurosawa reportedly replied). The resulting film is still a long, sometimes tedious, occasionally rewarding piece of work that nevertheless will always be overlooked, given the attention that will forever be placed on the superb, near-perfect films that surround it.
interference is evident early
on, as within five minutes, a silent movie-style intertitle is shown,
telling us what has happened in the scenes that have been
removed. Masayuki Mori as 'the idiot" Kameda (Prince Myshkin
the novel) and Toshiro Mifune
as the world-wise Akama have barely been introduced when the title
cards begin throwing names and places at us in a way that is guaranteed
to cause the reaction "Who? What? What
Mori gives one of the film's best performances as Kameda, who
suffered a nervous breakdown during the war and returns home a kind,
simple and damaged man. He is matched by the two main
in the cast, Setsuko Hara and Yoshiko Kuga, who play the two rivals who
fall for this angelic soul. Mifune does the best he can as
rich Akama, who is involved with one of the women, but I am not
sure if the laws of nature ever intended Toshiro Mifune to have a
a fancy silk bathrobe.
Having not read the novel, I cannot say whether it is a good adaptation. Therein lies the problem. Movies based on films should be independent, not relying on the audience's knowledge of the source material. As played, THE IDIOT at times resembles Woody Allen's gag in LOVE AND DEATH in which a character recites her problems, which all boil down to character A loves B, who loves C, who loves D... The film is not incoherent, it merely struggles to rise above the melodramatic love quadrangles of the plot and become something more meaningful. However much a pleasure it is to watch the talented "Kurosawa Players" in action no matter what the material, they are given little to do here except spout dialogue and look agitated in close-ups. Unlike most of Kurosawa's greatest films, THE IDIOT relies heavily on dialogue to drive the story along. The film is rarely visually compelling, and even when it is, such as the montage of Kameda's breakdown at the end of part one, and the winter carnival that opens part two, it still doesn't match Kurosawa's best work. A noble failure at best. ½ - JB