THE BAD SLEEP WELL
Kurosawa’s tasty black comedy begins at a wedding reception, one that rivals Connie Corleone’s for sheer drama: the daughter of a fat-cat corporate VP is marrying the VP’s personal assistant. As the reception begins, one of the officers of the company is arrested for cooking the books, much to the amusement of the press in attendance, who’ve been waiting for pretty much exactly this to happen. A good deal of plot is established in this opening sequence, as is the general tone of the film: the viewer is invited to share in the journalists’ amused cynicism about everything from the real feelings of the groom for the bride (is he marrying her just to get ahead?) to the sudden bizarre appearance of a wedding cake in the shape of a building with sinister associations for everyone concerned.
And we’re off and running. It turns out that the personal assistant (played by a very restrained but still magnetic Toshiro Mifune) isn’t quite what he seems: he has a very definite agenda. Hint: the movie owes a bit of a debt to HAMLET. There is a lot of good nasty fun to be had in THE BAD SLEEP WELL, of the kind that Kurosawa does especially well. Echoes of IKIRU’s bureaucratic satire and the bitterly misanthropic comic one-upmanship of YOJIMBO can often be felt, along with the unmistakable tension of the mysteriously under-rated HIGH AND LOW. Unfortunately, THE BAD SLEEP WELL falters, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly where. It has something to do with Mifune’s character having some well-founded concerns about the consequences of his actions, and these concerns being allowed to overwhelm the character and finally the movie.
The problem is that we're told that the "good" characters need to be as "bad" as the "bad" characters in order to prevail. Unfortunately, the ultimate undoing of the "good" people is not due to "goodness" but to "stupidity." In a nutshell, in order to give us a tragic ending, Kurosawa has Mifune under-estimate the "badness" of the people he is up against, and it just doesn't wash. Mifune has just been too clear-sighted about his enemies to make the error he makes, and the extended monologue a certain character makes on Mifune's behalf isn't terribly moving because of it.
Worth seeing, certainly, especially if you can manage to see it on a big screen. The Criterion DVD is great, but a DVD of any Kurosawa film is a serious dimunition. The acting is, as is only to be expected in a Kurosawa film, of the highest imaginable standard. There just aren't better made or acted films than Kurosawa's.
THE BAD SLEEP WELL. They sure do.