The Bad Sleep Well
(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Eijiro Hisaita. Photography: Yuzuru Aizawa. Music: Masaru Sato. Co-stars: Takeshi Kato, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Akira Nishimura, Kamatari Fujiwara, Gen Shimizu, Kyoko Kagawa, Tatsuya Mihashi.
Washizu in Throne of Blood is clearly Mifune's Macbeth. Nishi in The Bad Sleep Well has been called his Hamlet.
A young man whose father had died several years earlier in a nasty bit of corporate intrigue--was it suicide or murder?--seeks vengeance upon those he believes responsible. He goes about it in a most unusual way: first, he takes another man's name, and then he takes a job as personal secretary to the man who is his target, carefully ingratiating himself, even going so far as to marry the boss' handicapped daughter. Then he blackmails several of the company's executives into helping him while threatening to expose their embezzlements. But his plans go awry when he actually falls in love with the pitiably crippled woman he had married only for convenience. She, naively believing her father has reformed, unwittingly sets the trap for her husband's assassination.
The Bad Sleep Well gets a bit tangled in its own plot lines, but contains some remarkably inventive sequences that redeem the narrative's gyrations. The most spectacular is the opening sequence of the wedding reception for Nishi and his bride. The ceremonies are interrupted when the police arrest one of the guests, a company official. Then an enormous wedding cake in the shape of the company's headquarters is wheeled into the room with a flower in the window from which Nishi's father had fallen to his death years earlier. In this twenty-minute sequence of unrelieved tension, Kurosawa contrasts more brilliantly than ever before the difference between illusion (everyone at the wedding is playing a role, disguising his true motivations) and the reality of the empty ritual being played out.