I really enjoy a good revenge thriller, which is what attracted me to Akira Kurosawa‘s The Bad Sleep Well. While its plot of revenge is timeless, its tale of corporate corruption has become vogue once again.
The Bad Sleep Well (1960) opens at a wedding reception to which several eager journalists flock. We soon learn from the reporters’ dialogue with each other that the groom, Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) is a secretary for the Vice President of Public Corporation, Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) and is marrying his boss’s daughter. We also learn that reports have emerged about dirty business dealings between Public Corporation and Dairyu Construction which have defrauded taxpayers of millions. This is not the first time that Public Corporation have been in the spotlight. Several years earlier, it appeared that a co-worker committed suicide (perhaps was forced to) to cover up another scandal. As the Public Corporation/Dairyu scandal breaks, the executives begin to force suicides again to retain a cloak of silence. However, Koichi has other plans for them.
The film was somewhat controversial upon its initial release. The making-of featurette on the DVD reveals that original audiences in Japan would have known about real companies recently found guilty of such financial misdealings. Almost fifty years later, Kurosawa’s indictment still rings true as, no doubt, many defrauded investors and tax payers long for revenge against the corporations and executives who have robbed them of their life savings and accompanying hopes and dreams.
Though Koichi’s plan for revenge is creative–he has imagined wild payback that goes well beyond a simple bullet–it is not restorative. His revenge will not ring back what he has lost or what innocent citizens have lost, nor will it make the executives fully realized the extent of their sins. Furthermore, Koichi also recognizes that his quest for revenge might be making him more evil than the men he is fighting.
As one would expect, Kurosawa’s film is beautifully shot and well-acted. The use of lighting in some of the more haunting aspects of Koichi’s revenge is eerily effective. In the end, The Bad Sleep Well reveals the all-encompassing destruction of a non-restorative pursuit of revenge rather than justice. Even worse, it offers little hope that such massive economic corruption could ever be brought to justice after all.
The Bad Sleep Well (151 mins.) is available on DVD from Criterion.