The "scandal" in SCANDAL is rather tame. A singing star and an artist are photographed in an innocent yet compromising moment. That moment occurs when the artist is pointing to a garden, and the picture, if you squint, looks like he may be about to embrace her. Or something like that. In the film, a tabloid magazine runs the picture, creating a sensation across the country. In this age where self-indulgent non-talents whoring themselves in public on a daily basis are part of our daily life, the scandal in SCANDAL seems more than a bit tame. Such was life, I guess, in 1950 Japan.
SCANDAL is the last film Akira Kurosawa made before his breakthrough RASHOMON, and it almost feels as if he was holding back, saving all his good stuff for that film. It's hard to fault the cast. Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura team up once again, as in DRUNKEN ANGEL and STRAY DOG, and both are excellent. Mifune, not yet established as the wild man of Japanese Cinema, pulls off the part of a dapper, debonair artist beautifully. Shimura, however, steals the film utterly and completely with a performance that has to rank with his turns in IKIRU and SEVEN SAMURAI. As a self-loathing, alcoholic corrupt lawyer, Shimura owns this film. He begins as comic relief but soon becomes the heart of the film as we learn of his young daughter bedridden with tuberculosis and his ramshackle rooftop office on the "fifth floor" of a four-story building. When Shimura is on the screen, the film comes to life. Yes, it is another film which makes me wonder how in the hell his career could have slid into nondescript character parts so quickly. Kurosawa intended the film to be an indictment of the press and the increased westernization of post-war Japan, but like Mifune in DRUNKEN ANGEL, Shimura is so good, he becomes the film's focal point.
As in many pre-SEVEN SAMURAI Kurosawa films, the female characters are quite sympathetic. This is one of the few films by Kurosawa that attempts to tug at your heart strings, and young Yoko Katsuragi is hard not to like as Shimura's gravely-ill daughter who nevertheless maintain a sunny attitude. Yoshiko Yamaguchi as the conflicted pop singer has little to do, but she plays her part well and has a beautiful singing voice. Typical of Kurosawa, no love story develops between her singer and Mifune's artist. Yes, they do seem to be in love, but not much is made of it.
The performances of Shimura and Mifune, as well as the rest of the cast, are not enough to keep SCANDAL from being a tame and frequently dull film. It's not badly made, but there is little of the virtuoso camerawork Kurosawa is best known for, and few scenes that lodge in the memory. There are some echoes of Frank Capra, especially Shimura running down the street hollering "Merry Christmas!" (in English, no less), and a group-singing of "Auld Lang Syne". Overall, though, SCANDAL is one of the least memorable of the minor Kurosawa films. Worth at least one look for Takashi Shimura's outstanding performance. ½ - JB