Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Bad Sleep Well (Akira Kurosawa, 1960)

Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well (1960).

It's hard to say anything about The Bad Sleep Well without giving away too much of the story, so beware of spoilers in this post.

Toshiro Mifune stars as Nishi, a man bent on exacting vengeance on the corporate executives that convinced his father to commit suicide out of loyalty to them. Together they were all involved in a scam to hire a company and pay them more than what was really needed, and then recieve personal kickbacks from the company. When Nishi's father grew a conscience, they talked him into killing himself and when Nishi found out, he took on a fake identity and gained employment as the vice president's secretary.

While it is clear from the beginning who "The Bad" of the title are, it is a bit more complicated. All of the men behind the corruption, one of them described as non-human by another character, wrestles with their guilt and one is even driven insane by it when he's subjected to Nishi's plan. Nishi himself, who expresses frustration over not being able to be as ruthless as his enemies, hesitates when he finds himself in love with Yoshiko, the daughter of the vice president, who he just married to advance faster in the company. But his and his enemies humanity is what drives them all towards defeat. Only the vice president himself, who manages to hide his own humanity until the very end, and the nameless voice on the phone who gives him orders, are the ones to come out as winners.

Darker than the other Kurosawa films I've seen, The Bad Sleep Well shows a world where only the completely heartless win and the rest are losers.