The Bad Sleep Well
March 2, 2006
The Bad Sleep Well (1960) marked the debut of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s independent production company. He had grown tired of making samurai films for the studio and wanted to do something different. The subject matter of his new movie – corporate corruption – was deemed too controversial and did not perform well at the box office.
Two powerful Japanese corporations are rife with corruption. Several executives have been arrested by the police and this sends the media into a frenzy. One of the companies, Public Corp., is not just suffering from charges of embezzlement from within but also from a kickback scheme with another troubled company named Dairyu whose own scandal is starting to spread like a cancer into Public Corp.
Koichi Nishi (Mifune) is the secretary to the vice president (Mori) of Public Corp. He is getting married to his boss’ daughter as the film begins. The jaded media see it as a power play on Nishi’s part so that he can climb further up the corporate ladder. The film’s opening marriage ceremony is not just the union between two people but also symbolizes the dealings between Dairyu and Public Corp.
There are more arrests, documents confiscated and indictments handed down but the prosecution can’t come up with credible evidence to make their charges stick. An anonymous source is providing the police with their information but who is it? Someone from a rival company? Someone from within Dairyu or Public Corp? The bribery investigation is impeded by the suicides of two top execs. However, we soon learn that one, Wada’s (Fujiwara), was faked by Nishi.
Why? Several years ago, some executives from Public Corp. covered up the suicide of one of their own – Nishi’s father – and were rewarded with promotions so that now they are the company’s top echelon. Nishi decides to team up with Wada and get revenge on them and expose their links to Japan’s top government officials.
It is interesting to see that executives all over the world act the same way. These men maintain a business-as-usual façade to mask their more nefarious, secretive dealings. They are fueled by greed and power and will do anything to maintain complete control. Kurosawa exposes the complex machinations that exist in a corporation and how corrupt they can get. He shows the backstabbing that occurs among executives in order to advance or cover-up an illegal deal.
Kurosawa’s film has been seen as a contemporary reworking of Hamlet set in the corporate world with Nishi as the anguished protagonist haunted by his father’s death and driven to make those responsible pay for it. And so, the marriage to his boss’ daughter (who has a very Ophelia quality to her) is a clever way for him to get access to his company’s higher echelon. First and foremost though, The Bad Sleep Well is a scathing indictment of corporate corruption and greed. By filming it in black and white, Kurosawa gives his movie a more truthful feel, just like the black and white of a daily newspaper. It not only anticipates corporate power-play movies like Wall Street (1987) but is also eerily relevant to contemporary times with the recent Enron scandal.
“Akira Kurosawa: It is wonderful to create” is a 30 minute documentary about the making of The Bad Sleep Well. The movie dealt with controversial subject matter for the time (several corporations were in the midst of their own corruption scandals) and it took five screenwriters (including Kurosawa) to produce a screenplay that didn’t name names but still got its message across. This is a fascinating, well-made look at this movie.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.