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The Bad Sleep Well: The Criterion Collection

When you're Akira Kurosawa, it's easy to make a couple masterpieces that slip under the radar. From 1949's Stray Dog until 1985's Ran, almost every film the director made could be considered for magnum opus status, and it's hard to stand out when you're next to the likes of great humanist drama like Ikuru, great Shakespearean adaptations like Throne of Blood, or the film most seen as influencing George Lucas' Star Wars in The Hidden Fortress. And that's not even mentioning his samurai triumphs in Yojimbo or The Seven Samurai! As such, some great works can get ignored when others are not only great, but also touchstones in careers: For instance, 1965's Red Beard is prominent because it was the last time Kurosawa worked with regular leading man Toshiro Mifune. So then, let it be said that The Bad Sleep Well (1960) is another Kurosawa masterpiece, his second in a trilogy of loose Shakespearean adaptations. Beginning with a masterful 20-minute wedding set-piece, the drama is introduced as the family of Public Corporation's vice-president Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) is hounded by the press because of scandals over business corruption. The wedding is of Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) to Iwabuchi's gimp daughter Keiko (Kyoko Kagawa), where much of the cast is introduced — including Keiko's playboy brother Tatsuo (Tatsuya Mihashi) — and it's revealed most think Koichi married Keiko to further his career. Because of the evidence of corruption, the police arrest two assistants from the corporation, but when they're released, one commits suicide while the other, Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara), is asked by Koichi to fake his own death. Koichi is not what or who he seems, since his father was asked to kill himself to protect the corporation, and his marriage is all a part of a five-year plan to destroy the company from within. Perhaps with our current concerns over government shenanigans and corporate scandal, The Bad Sleep Well seems prescient — though in a sense it sadly proves that such concerns are timeless. What marks the film as brilliant is how Kurosawa manages to make good use of Hamlet, which he both honors and reinvents (as he did in Throne of Blood and Ran). The Bad Sleep Well is, in a jazz sense, a riff on the rotten state of Denmark, which gives the text a fresh glean — and only a genius can add to something acknowledged as a classic the world over and avoid its shopworn characteristics. It's what makes the film so exciting, crackling with electricity, reminding viewers why Hamlet is so lauded in the first place, while also creating a different spin (and Kurosawa's genius of reinterpretation is impossible to ignore). The Bad Sleep Well is labeled a "minor" Kurosawa only because it doesn't have the heft, or place, of the pictures for which he will always be celebrated. The Criterion Collection presents the film in a very sharp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with the original monaural Japanese soundtrack and optional English subtitles. Extras consist of a documentary on the making of the film (33 min.) and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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