If you’re in the mood for a rich, deeply textured crime drama, you could certainly do a lot worse than Kurosawa’s 1960 The Bad Sleep Well, with its icy cool antihero, subversive revenge flick plot, and none-too-subtle Hamlet overtones. And with its deviously critical eye toward corporate culture, it’s just as relevant today as ever before.
Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo) plays Koichi Nishi, the new executive at Public Corporation of Unexploited Land Development, a large Japanese corporation under fire for allegations of corruption. The film opens during Nishi’s wedding ceremony to Yoshiko, the daughter of Public Corporation’s VP, and after a series of wonderfully painted monologues – both funny and insightful – comes an ominous endowment: a cake formed in the shape of Public Corporation’s headquarters, along with a red rose in the window for which one of the employees had committed suicide from 5 years before.
One of the best things about Kurosawa, and a testament to his lasting appeal, is that his stories are utterly timeless. Whether they take place in 16th century Feudal Japan or 1950’s corporate Tokyo, his work has always been more about the darker side of human nature than about the cliches of his plot setting. After all, his inspiration stems from as widely disparate sources as Shakespeare to American Westerns, which, even at their worst, can serve as perfect templates for analysis of the human spirit. And despite being one of his most pessimistic films, the great humanist Kurosawa still imbues The Bad Sleep Well with humor, hope, and the enduring possibility of redemption.
The Bad Sleep Well: One of the great, overlooked films in Kurosawa’s canon.