“Better than Shakespeare!”
– Francis Ford Coppola
“Enron meets Hamlet"
I saw this movie last night at the Film Forum with all new subtitles by “noted translator Linda Hoaglund”. She seems to put real jive and verve into all of the Kurosawa films that I have seen with her subtitles, particularly the 20th century tales. However, I am sure she takes great license in injecting films like “Drunken Angel” with brilliant modern dialogue. I am already bemused by seeing sensei’s write up above referring to the characters I came to know as Ishi and Yumiko as Koichi and Keiko. Just a caveat for us English speakers. Also, it may seem that I am interpreting this movie to provide factual/historical information about the Nipponese culture. Of course, this may be “just a movie”, but hey, that is where I get all of my supposedly factual information about the entire world outside of the tri-state area.
A web of corporate intrigue is spun before us in artful shots and impeccable acting by the whole Tojo Team of Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, et. al . The law is sniffing out a kickback scheme involving a development company and a government bureau, and the execs are scrambling to line up patsies and cover their trail. Added to this, a mysterious vendetta is being exacted upon them by a ghost from their past.
Upon reading the title, I pronounced the movie “The Bad Sleepwell”, thinking that the sleep well was the subject, and Bad the adjective. With this interpretation, one would think that the movie was about a hole in the ground from whence one draws water that gives you nightmares. However, after watching the movie, the title makes sense. Trying to think of a more figurative translation might yield "The evil have no trouble sleeping" or some such. You see, the movie is about “The Bad”, the evil people in power. Now, with new understanding of the title, one may think that “the bad” have no trouble sleeping simply because they are just that, bad. Without a conscience to bother you, guilt over your misdeeds would not keep you awake at night. While this is definitely true, I took another meaning from this movie.
It seems to me that Enron could never happen in Nippon. This movie illustrates perfectly the way that the feudal hierarchy was still rigidly adhered to even post-WWII. The Bad can sleep well, because they have complete confidence that their underlings will never let anything happen to them. The underlings are so brainwashed by a twisted bushido that they believe their lives exist to protect/serve their betters. Where an Enron exec would sing like a canary to shave 2 years off of a prison sentence, an Unexploited Land Public Corp. exec will just dive in front of a bus, or leap into a volcano.
This is how problems are solved in this movie, and one man tries to finally give the masters their just desserts. But while the protagonist is blinded by revenge, the audience can see how futile his quest is. Even if he serves justice upon the object of his hatred, there are still bosses above him. And indeed, at the end of the movie our main villain is having trouble sleeping. But this is not due to a sudden acquisition of a conscience or scruples. Rather, this is due to the fact that all of his underlings have already died for him, and now he is in the line of fire to protect the faceless bosses he serves.