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The Bad Sleep Well (1960)


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The Bad Sleep Well (1960). Akira Kurosawa's bleak and riveting look into corporate malfeasance affirms that corporations can be tribal enterprises, hunting down nuisances that get in the way: competition, ethics, morality and people who threaten the interests of the corporation, or rather the people that run them.

The opening scene, introducing us to the basic elements of the story, takes place at a company wedding reception. Reporters and photographers fly out of elevators, take their seats, and act like a peanut gallery, speculating and gossiping about which of the executives will be indicted next.  The occasion is for the matrimony of Nishi (Kurosawa vet Toshiro Mifune), a promising but mysterious employee, and the daughter of the Vice President of Public Corporation, a company that seems to have its filthy fingers in everything. The ceremony itself is a gloomy, anxiety-filled affair:  sweaty brows, deep breaths, and glasses raised with trembling hands. And a cake that terrifies certain people with unclean consciences. It turns out that Public Corporation is under investigation in an extensive bid-rigging and kickback scheme involving construction contracts.

The narrative framework is procedural.  Newspaper headlines shout out the goings on. Several people facing indictment have committed suicide. A window an executive jumped out of serves as a recurring symbol. Vice President Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) is one of the figures targeted by prosecutors. He's the banality of evil, a weaselly, amoral survivalist.

Nishi’s motives are slowly revealed. Mifune, in his business suit and glasses, resembles an enforcer impersonating a business man. He's on a parallel track with government prosecutors in setting things straight. But his methods are vigilante-like, and more effective in the short run. Tucked inside what is a political thriller and vengeance tale is a poignant portrait of Nishi falling in love with his wife, Yoshiko, a physically handicapped woman who never thought she would find anyone to love her. The actress, Kyōko Kagawa, makes the most of her screen time.  The marriage at first was a calculated move by Nishi to gain access. Iwabuchi’s children, including his honorable son, suspect their father is up to no good. As a single parent who provides a comforting home for them, they choose not to pry, partly out of loyalty but also because they pity him.

Over the course of the film, however, things unravel for the forces of good. This is not a Hollywood version of corporate venality being punished.  It's a fatalistic message.   A form of justice, however, does occur, courtesy of Yoshiko. As to whether the punishment is enough is anyone's guess.

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