(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Screenplay: Eijiro Hisaita and Akira Kurosawa, from the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Photography: Toshio Ubukata. Music: Fumio Hayasaka. Co-stars: Masayuki Mori, Setsuko Hara, Takashi Shimura, Chieko Higashiyama, Chiyoko Fumitani, Yoshiko Kuga, Minoru Chiaki, Kuninori Kodo.
Though this is not one of Kurosawa's finest films, Mifune is very fond of The Idiot and of his performance in it. His is the Rogozhin role, here called Denkichi Akama.
Kurosawa remains remarkably faithful to the details of Dostoyevsky's novel (which he transposed to Hokkaido), with all its complicated and changing relationships. In short: Kinji Kameda (the Myshkin character) returns home to Hokkaido from a stay in an asylum on far-off Okinawa. He meets the brusque Akama and they strike up an uneasy friendship. Akama is in love with Taeko, Ayako loves Kameda; Kameda loves both women, but is more drawn to Taeko. The two men fight over her, Akama stabs Taeko. Then in a significant departure from the original novel, the two men go insane together.
Just as the above precis gives no real idea of the film, the film adheres so rigidly to the details of Dostoyevsky's plot that it does not capture the spirit of the novel. Kurosawa's passion for Dostoyevsky seems to have clouded his judgement of how to adapt the novel.
The strength of the film is in the portrayal of the two main characters. Kameda and Akama are an unlikely pair whose relationship is made more plausible and poignant by the excellent portrayals of Mori and Mifune, who play against each other with great skill. A year earlier, they had appeared together in Rashomon, with Mori playing the murdered husband to Mifune's tempestuous bandit. In The Idiot Mifune's exhuberant performance as Akama was the perfect foil to the gentler, introspective and neurasthenic qualities that Mori brought to the title role.