Review: The Bad Sleep Well

A sprawling Japanese epic of corruption and revenge, as Nishi (Toshiro Mifune, in a slow-burning performance of concealed rage) marries into the wealthy family of crooked businessman Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) and becomes the man’s secretary, with the itent of bringing down Vice President Iwabuchi and the other executives (Takashi Shimura among them) he feels responsible for a past misdeed against his own family years ago (Nishi isn’t his real name, obviously).

Hardly among the best films from director/co-writer Akira Kurosawa (“The Seven Samurai”, “Rashomon”, “Sanjuro”, “Yojimbo”, “Throne of Blood”), this crime/revenge-drama from 1960 has tried to apply an epic scope to something frankly a little small fry. It results in a film with compelling moments stretched out amongst a whole lot of…not very much of interest at all. Perhaps Kurosawa shouldn’t have been an editor of his own work here. He seems too much in love with it all.

Early on we get a genuinely funny wedding speech by the bride’s brother ending with ‘If you hurt her, I’ll kill you!’. It’s probably not an idle threat either, given many of the people involved here are neck-deep in dodgy practices. We also get a rather thunderous, strong music score by Masaru SatĂ´ (“The Hidden Fortress”, “Yojimbo”, “Son of Godzilla”). It’s an interesting role for Toshiro Mifune here as the bespectacled son-in-law of the crooked boss, and he gets better as the film goes along too.

Overall though…I didn’t quite get this. Why such an epic treatment for a routine revenge/crime story? 2 ½ hours long is about an hour too long for what is classic, lean-and-mean B-movie material in my view. The epic Shakespearean approach takes all the energy out of the whole thing, and quite a lot of the interest. Hell, even though I praised that amusing moment at the beginning, that whole opening scene goes on forever. Directors like Coppola (whose “Godfather” films seems somewhat influenced by this film) managed to make it more workable than Kurosawa does here. That’s a shame, because the story actually is an interesting one, it’s just been stretched past breaking point. The plot gets uncovered with still an hour to go! Madness.

The performances are excellent (Mifune and Shimura particularly), as is the music score, but an epic scope is all wrong here. A 100 minute B-classic gone begging, instead we get a few strong moments and a lot of tedium. I dunno about this one. Based on a novel by Ed McBain (but also a bit Hamlet-esque), the screenplay is by Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto (“The Hidden Fortress”), EijirĂ´ Hisaita (Kurosawa’s “The Idiot”), Ryuzo Kikushima (“The Hidden Fortress”), and Hideo Oguni (“The Hidden Fortress”).

Rating: C+


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