Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Hideo Oguni, Eijirō Hisaita, Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima, Shinobu Hashimoto
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyōko Kagawa, Tatsuya Mihashi, Takashi Shimura
Corporations have laid their stake in nations and with the abundance of cash they can produce, their political sway increases. With this power, a different level of accountability forms for them and trying to bring justice becomes a life-risking endeavor. The Bad Sleep Well follows how a little man tries to do the right thing and faces the challenges that come with it.
After marrying the wife of his boss, Kōichi Nishi (Toshiro Mufine) becomes aware of the corruption that has occurred in the company. With the help of a friend, his wife, and a disgruntled employee, Nishi attempts to prove the evil his father-in-law has committed.
Cultural divides in the way American and Japanese corporations operate can be seen simply through the manufacturing of vehicles. The most reliable cars always seem to be Toyota and Honda, if you look at resale value and how long people keep them as compared to General Motors or Ford. Instead of focusing on profits at the end of each quarter like in America, Japanese companies care more for craftsmanship and creating a great product first. It differentiates the nations in that way but corruption seems to be something that seeps its way into any corporation, because of a human vice that reaches us all: greed. The thirst for more money and the lack of accountability are a scourge to business ethics, and in the case of The Bad Sleep Well, it gets deadly.
The division of life and death makes itself evident, as the film opens on a wedding reception where reporters flock. A wedding represents the beginning of a new life and future between two individuals and we’re sure to see a few funerals in the latter half of the story. It puts the character of Nishi in an interesting position as he attempts to uncover injustices committed by a man who just became his father-in-law, but it just adds to the intrigue. The Bad Sleep Well carries such a great balance of genres, which encompass thriller, political drama, detective drama, and romance. It asks the difficult questions of what one would do if put in a similar circumstance, knowing the consequences of a single mistake.
It came to no surprise that Akira Kurosawa pulled off something this tense and pulse-pounding, as he understands how to manipulate the viewing experience for the audience. He sets the stage and shows characters that get arrested and upon talking to the police, they try to kill themselves. They do this action because they have now been marked as someone that could have spoken against the Dairyu Construction Company. One could easily see this being similar behavior to someone afraid of the mob or an organized crime syndicate. Unfortunately, without getting their hands dirty, some corporations act in a similar fashion. Kurosawa injects moments of hope into a story that feels like it has an inevitable ending. Through all the fighting and fact-finding, rarely does the little person win that battle.
In a way, the title speaks to the conscience of the people in the story, but also our world. Knowing the evils that a company does should apply some weight on your soul if you work as an accomplice. Having it weigh down on you would make it hard to sleep. Those who have any sort of conscience have a hard time sleeping while knowing the terrifying outcomes they contribute to while those who have given their souls to profits enjoy their peaceful slumbers. The title plays its way into the progression of these characters.
Leading the charge is Nishi, portrayed by the legendary Toshiro Mifune, who works spectacularly well with Kurosawa. No one can yell like he can and his work as a character of nobility seems like a rarity for him. Mifune has remained one of the greatest actors because of the various styles of roles he took on. Stars in his era and even today care far too much about their image and how taking on a certain character would affect their public persona. Mifune has portrayed immoral, challenging, apathetic, and disturbing characters throughout his career. He could be a vagrant like in Rashomon, a greedy king in Throne of Blood, a troubled young man in Stray Dog, and not perfectly good when fitting into a hero role like in Yojimbo. His work The Bad Sleep Well may just be his purest role, and he delivered again.
Even in moments of hope, the weight of the situation surrounding these characters reminds the audience of the type of world we all live in. Nishi and his accomplices need to collect undeniable data against this corporation to expose them to the media. They need to garner something that would be so ironclad that no silver-tongued attorney could possibly reason. All of that work can be ruined so quickly, which makes this such a harrowing viewing experience.
It’s crazy to think that something with the quality of this film would not even crack into Kurosawa’s ten best films. It says plenty about his mastery of the filmmaking craft and just how consistent his output always was. The tension and the drama in this story could be felt through the screen and serves as a harsh reminder that everyone’s playing on different levels.