The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

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Been intrigued by the translated title’s use of Bad as a plural noun. BFI leaflet in my DVD copy says that Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru could more accurately be translated as “the worse you are, the better you sleep”.

Akira Kurosawa’s first film with his own production company. A Hamlet-inspired tale of urban corruption that bisects Throne of Blood and High and Low. Also comes after Stray Dog and Rashomon, my two favourites. Surprised to learn all this because it sometimes seems quite prototypical in all senses. I prefer the way the Shakespearean plot is interpolated to ToB‘s recostumed Macbeth. Mifune’s casting seemed like an early experiment rather than an attempt to break type. His classic visual cues (besides weather, perhaps) are here but often contained, less theatrical.

Still, AK’s the best for the movement of many. The opening wedding scene is beautifully choreographed, with the internal eddies in the hierarchical seating plan creating the effect of a whole company squirming under the gaze of the journalists. The latter are aloof and able to comment but also seem somehow complicit in the rigmarole of power-plays and dissemination of information (TBSW perhaps relies too much on exposition, but here the introduction to the different players helps set up this interesting power dynamic). Nishi’s and Yoshiko’s relationship grows out of the ominous moment when, under many eyes, she trips on the aisle and the music stops: this inability to act under the thumb of capricious male authority is what drives Nishi both to his actions and into the arms of his wife. The reactions to the cake are amazing too.

Was reminded of Mann’s The Insider or even The Network in the way the schemes succeed because of their affective force, the emotional component to the power dynamics in the company. In the scene where N plants banknotes in Shirai’s briefcase, we expect an accusation of the obvious, but S is completely pinned down by the thought of Iwabuchi in the other room; the visual series of N’s crafty interest, S’s gawping horror and Moriyama’s smirk tinged with pathos are all held together by their obligations.

Interestingly, while the success of N’s plans relies on manipulating the emotions of his victims (S has gone mad long before the supposedly poisoned whisky because of the frequent appearances of Wada the ghost), it also relies on his own emotional stability. Outside the system he has to imitate the system itself in order to outsmart it: “I don’t hate enough. […] It’s hard to hate evil. I must hate and become bad myself.”

I’ve seen people complain about disjunction between the images and the score but I loved the way N’s whistled tune (western influences again) plays out in jaunty big-band glee when he recites his crimes to M. There are traces of classic Mifune (he’s pretty twisted in the chiaroscuro apartment at which he tortures S; this is a pulpy centrepiece).

I also liked the introduction of the postwar narrative: these corporate superstructures are built on the petrified remains of lives frozen in ruin after bombardment. The shattered munitions factory serves as a perfect base for N’s plot, and a perfect trap for when the company come to remove it by the roots. Grander narrative to the particular story about people behind their roles; we already know W is going to crumble (“he’s a man, not an official”) because his moralised criticism of N is couched in terms of obedience, institutional not ethical imperatives.

Obviously lacks the grandiosity of his Samurai pictures, and isn’t as stylistically attractive as SD (interesting also to read in the BFI book about the western response; K himself admitted that had he made the film in America his critique could have gone a lot deeper). But all the elements are there, and its an excitingly layered story; plus it lacks some of the problems with pacing that nag ToB, even SD, etc. Very fun corporate noir.

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