The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Food:

In honor of Akira Kurosawa, here is a cocktail that was made as an homage to one of his most beloved films.

Samurai

Half a squeezed orange
1 ounce White Rum
1/2 ounce Sake
1/3 ounce Sweet Vermouth
2/3 ounce Japanese mandarin tea
1 dash lemon juice

(Source: https://cocktailcalendar.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/march-23-akira-kurosawa/)

Noirvember Film Series #5:

“The Bad Sleep Well” (1960) (悪い奴ほどよく眠る, “Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru“) is a Japanese noir film directed by the acclaimed Akira Kurosawa, who is most known for his contributions such as “Ikiru” (1952), “Seven Samurai” (1954) and “Yojimbo” (1961). In 1990, he received the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In a previous IngloriousBaguettes series (World War II), “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970), the epic two sided approach to the infamous wartime attack of Pearl Harbor, was covered. This was not directed by Kurosawa, but he worked with 20th Century Fox to produce the film, an ambitious international project that helped to shed light on the events from both the US and the Japanese point-of-view. Ambitious projects are nothing new for this director, but this film was the first to be produced under his own independent production company, marking an achievement for the filmmaker.

“The Bad Sleep Well” is a demanding crime drama which opens with a prestigious wedding ceremony shrouded in tabloid fodder, as a flock of reporters push their way to the sidelines in anticipation of a spectacle, and there was a spectacle indeed. Halfway through the toasts, it is time to cut the cake. However, after their wedding cake is brought out, another cake is delivered, one with an ominous hidden message. It emulates the company offices where most of the wedding attendees work, with a dark dropping rose peeking from a seventh story window – the same window where former employee Furuya leapt to his death.

The ceremony was hosted by the revered Public Development Corporation’s Vice President Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) whose daughter Yoshiko (Kyōko Kagawa) weds his secretary Koichi Nishi (frequent colloborater and star of many Kurosawa films, Toshiro Mifune). Yoshiko is a naïve and kind-hearted young woman, who suffers from a disability from a childhood incident. Because of this, many question the sincerity of Nishi’s intentions, but he has established a trusting relationship with her protective older brother, Tatsuo (Tatsuya Mihashi), and has worked his way into her heart. If that were not enough to get stir the pot, the company has been under scrutiny over a recent merger with Dairyu Construction Company, and the police crash the event to arrest corporate assistant officer Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara) on charges of bribery. Through the chatter of the onlooking reporters, the audience learns that the events are reminiscent of an earlier scandal involving Iwabuchi, his administrative officer Moriyama (Takashi Shimura) and contract officer Shirai (Kō Nishimura) – the scandal that had resulted in the convenient death of Faruya, putting a dead end to the investigations.

As the authorities continue to question both Wada and Miura (Gen Shimizu) about the kickbacks and bribery schemes, however they are tight lipped and the investigators are forced to release them. However, immediately following their release, Miura commits suicide, and audiences meet Wada standing on the edge of a volcano plucking up the courage to end his life. In a clever series of events, viewers become involved in the behind-the-curtain schemes of the employees as they strive to survive either physically or emotionally and ultimately save themselves.

The cinematography (by Yuzuru Aizawa) and production design (by Yoshirô Muraki) can best be described as dramatic, grandiose, mechanical – each scene portrayed through strong lines and thoughtful composition. There is an almost scientific contrast between the cold and sharp backdrops and the emotional unraveling of the characters within them. Yoshiko, in her withdrawn manner, struggles to feel worthy of love, and their connection plays a more pertinent role in the escalating events than it might initially seem, due to Kurosawa’s intricately constructed writing. “The Bad Sleep Well” is long, and perhaps could have been thirty minutes shorter, but by the final act, he leaves viewers so gutted and enraptured as a result of such elaborate detail. The gossipy journalists warn us of this, as one remarks to the other that it was a wild first act, to which he is met with the response, “first act? This is only the prelude.”

The origins of the story come from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a revenge plot shrouded with complicated hierarchies and social dynamics. Though, Kurosawa also doubled down and included commentary on corporate corruption, which was thought to be a critique of what he was experiencing within the film industry at the time. In a fight to expose upper middle class corruption in post-World War II Japan, the characters in this film are forced to reckon with their individual morality, the illusion of loyalty in politics and business, insidious systems of power and opportunism. It is scathing and cynical, but with such specificity that it never feels aggrandized. Much of the films power is in the performances – especially from Mifune and Nishimura, as their characters are both impenetrable yet neurotic in starkly different ways.

“The Bad Sleep Well” is a classic noir: black and white cinematography, obsessiveness, disillusionment, mystery and cynicism. Commenting on a villains ability to devour one for their optimism, making their own hopefulness a weakness, their own humanity a vulnerability. It’s a skilled film that packs a devastating punch. Perhaps because it is a lesser seen genre, but this is a film that feels somehow underrated. Audiences who appreciate a fully-fleshed out epic of a noir, this should not be missed.

” It’s not easy hating evil. You have to stoke your own fury until you become evil yourself.”

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