The Bad Sleep Well (1960) screened on the final night of OzAsia Festival’s program of noir cinema from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
The preceding films, Stray Dog and High and Low, are closely related but this inexplicable tale of corporate corruption stands alone.
Starring Kurosawa’s wild yet versatile golden boy, Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon, The Sword of Doom), this picture has grand scope in both its subject and its aesthetic. It advances on a knife edge right from the start, where the perfect order of a wedding reception is repeatedly threatened, most arrestingly by a silent bombshell which is poetic in its simplicity.
An additional wedding cake arrives. It is a model of the corporate headquarters of the key players in this drama, with a rose inserted in a seventh-floor window, the site of a terrible secret. It sits there like Banquo’s ghost, racking the executives with litres of combined shame which bead up monstrously over their respective brows.
There are several set pieces that recall moments from the noir classic Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder 1944) or even Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Macbeth. The ghostly face of Shirai (Kô Nishimura, the quietly incendiary gentleman warrior Ido Daijyurou from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) is a miracle of shadows and light.
The Bad Sleep Well is beautifully framed throughout by cinematographer Yuzuru Aizawa and makes excellent use of black and white. From the formidable angular faces in close-up, to the wider shots, one’s spatial spider-sense tingles throughout. In one shot an incidental wooden plank is transformed by composition and camera wizardry into some kind of orgasmic sacred geometry.
This is a film which requires patience but has continuing relevance and is assuredly sealed with Sensei Kurosawa’s honourable stamp.
The Bad Sleep Well screened as the Mercury Cinema as part of the OzAsia Film Festival, which continues until October 4. Details of other screenings can be found here.
Visit InDaily’s OzAsia Festival hub for more reviews and stories