4.5, Japan

The Bad Sleep Well

1960 / Akira Kurosawa > It’s taken me quite a while to appreciate the power of Kurosawa’s storytelling, but The Bad Sleep Well is one step closer to the nail on that coffin. Forget the fact that this is a Shakespearean adaptation (and note that knowing the story itself is of no consequence). What we have here is an elegantly crafted corporate revenge thriller that touches on multiple facets of capitalism as well as social construction. While there may be a leftist bias, thankfully the gravity of that bias is appropriate when the plot and setting are put in perspective.

Toshiro Mifune is as lean and mean as ever: No Seven Samurai-style overindulgence is necessary for him to convey his character’s anger and compassion. The remainder of the cast each flower the pot to full bloom, notably Ko Nishimura’s paranoid contract officer and Tatsuya Mihashi’s loving brother. The cryptic and often jolly musical accompaniment is haunting, and the pacing slowly builds an emotional snowball within the viewer that enhances attachment. Too often we get bored and want the bad guy to win—but here, even though at times we question the protagonist’s moral tactics, we stand by him and hope for the best.

The film is often forgotten among the annals of samurai flicks in Kurosawa’s ouevre. But The Bad Sleep Well is not simply about social relevance to today’s society, but rather a sobering experience in expert storytelling. It lacks the gimmicks that drive most of today’s films, and instead depends on human curiosity itself, an obvious yet underused technique. The wedding cake scene alone is worth the price of viewing.