The Bad Sleep Well (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru)

The Bad Sleep Well
(Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Shinobu Hashimoto, Eijirô Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Stars: Toshirô Mifune (Koichi Nishi), Masayuki Mori (Public Corp. Vice President Iwabuchi), Kyôko Kagawa (Keiko Nishi), Tatsuya Mihashi (Tatsuo Iwabuchi), Takashi Shimura (Administrative Officer Moriyama), Kô Nishimura (Contract Officer Shirai), Takeshi Katô (Itakura), Kamatari Fujiwara (Assistant-to-the-Chief Wada), Chishu Ryu (Public Prosecutor Nonaka), Seiji Miyaguchi (Prosecutor Okakura)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1960
Country: Japan
The Bad Sleep Well Criterion Collection DVD
The Bad Sleep WellThe title of Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru) evokes with perfect clarity the film’s cynical view of banal evil run amok in the modern world. While the good suffer and struggle to do what is right, the bad sleep in comfort, knowing not only that their greed and fraud are paying handsome dividends, but they are safe in their web of corruption because no one cares. It is here that the film reveals it most acute sense of bitterness, taking to task the modern corporate ethos that the end justifies the means, especially if the men at the top remain wealthy and in power. Despite having been made more than 45 years ago and in a postwar Japanese setting, in the age of Enron, it may be more relevant than ever.

In the 12th of his 16 legendary collaborations with Kurosawa, Toshirô Mifune, clean-shaven and wearing nerdish horn-rimmed glasses, plays Koichi Nishi, a seemingly mild-mannered young man who marries Keiko (Kyôko Kagawa), the daughter of Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori), the vice president of the massive Public Corporation for Land Development. The film’s opening sequence takes place at the wedding, and much of the exposition is handily, if a bit obviously, delivered by a group of tabloid reporters, who ruminate about foul business practices within Public Corp. and question Nishi’s motivations for marrying Keiko, who has one lame leg.

It turns out that Nishi does have an ulterior motive to marrying Keiko, but it’s not to move up the corporate ladder. Rather, it is to tear the corporation down from the inside, something he begins doing as soon as he is made Iwabuchi’s personal secretary. Nishi has a personal vendetta against the executives at Public Corp., one that is not revealed until nearly halfway through the film and that gives his one-man crusade a sharp sense of both moral outrage and personal vengeance.

Nishi’s enemy is certainly deserving: Along with two other executives, administrative officer Moriyama (Takashi Shimura) and contract officer Shirai (Kô Nishimura), Iwabuchi’s strategy for containing scandal within the corporation is to coerce lower-level executives into committing suicide, something that occurs with alarming frequency. Nishi finds a useful ally in Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara), the assistant to the chief whom he saves at the brink of a volcano from coerced suicide. Together, they fake Wada’s death and then use him behind the scenes, occasionally allowing him to emerge into the light to frighten those who assume he must be a ghost.

The theme of ghosts is an apt one for The Bad Sleep Well, because the film is haunted by death. Every lavishly appointed home, sharp business suit, and impressive office building has been paid for with the literal and figurative blood of underlings, something Nishi is determined to correct. The screenplay, which Kurosawa wrote with four others, is sharply focused and doesn’t soften any of the edges, even when taking on such revered Japanese customs as loyalty to one’s superiors and showing how it plays directly into the maintenance of corruption and the exploitation of the weak. The film also maintains an interesting moral balance, constantly suggesting that Nishi’s own actions against the buttoned-down purveyors of corruption and murder threaten to make him no better than they are. This is especially the case when he entraps Shirai (who has already been driven to the edge of insanity) in a seventh-floor office, threatening to either throw him out the window or force him to drink poison.

At times, the film plays a bit too long and melodramatically (despite some brilliant touches of inky black humor), and Nishi’s relationship with Keiko, with whom he is genuinely in love even though his marriage is technically a sham, doesn’t work particularly well. It is here that we can best sense the screenplay straining at contrivance, attempting to redeem Nishi for his callous using of the poor girl, who is the film’s one truly blameless victim. Nevertheless, The Bad Sleep Well is a frequently powerful indictment of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”--even when evil becomes corporatized and bureaucratized and otherwise made to appear legitimate and normal, it is still abominable.

The Bad Sleep Well Criterion Collection DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AudioJapanese Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • 33-minute documentary on the making of the film, part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Essays by film critic Chuck Stephens and screenwriter-director Michael Almereyda
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateJanuary 10, 2006

    The new anamorphic widescreen transfer, which maintains The Bad Sleep Well’s original Tohoscope aspect ratio, is uniformly excellent. The transfer was made from a 35mm composite print struck from the original negative and digitally restored to remove virtually all traces of dirt and scratches. The film’s noir-ish black-and-white cinematography is well represented, with dark blacks and excellent shadow detail. At times it appears just slightly soft, but also clear and very filmlike.

    The original monaural soundtrack, mastered at 24-bit from an optical print track and digitally restored, sounds fine. There is very little music in the film, so most of the soundtrack consists of dialogue and a few sound effects, all of which are nicely rendered with virtually no ambient hiss.

    As with all of Criterion’s recent DVD releases of Kurosawa films, The Bad Sleep Well contains the corresponding episode of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create about the making of the film. The episode on The Bad Sleep Well runs about 33 minutes and features interviews with a good cross-section of the cast and crew, who talk about their experiences working with Kurosawa on the film. Also included on the disc is an original theatrical trailer, and the insert booklet contains an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens (the same essay that appeared on the back of the Criterion laser disc) and a new appreciative essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, whose own cinematic restaging of Hamlet in the corporate world was influenced by Kurosawa’s film.

    Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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