I had no idea it was Mifune Toshirô (nor did I get the Hamlet subtext).
Kurosawa mixes genres a lot with The Bad Sleep Well. It’s an incredibly romantic film, but not from the start. The start is a twenty minute wedding scene, all told from reporters’ points of view. It creates a distancing effect, it makes the narrative peculiar. It keeps the audience removed from the characters–in fact, the protagonist isn’t revealed until forty minutes into the film. I know what Mifune looks like, I’ve seen him in quite a few films, but since I wasn’t looking for him (another advantage to going into a film unaware), I let myself get caught up in what was going on.
The distancing–which continues into a police investigation into government corruption–isn’t off-putting. The film follows multiple characters around in a procedural manner Kurosawa used again in High and Low (to much less effect) and manages not to disengage the viewer. This device is successful because no one–not even the viewer–has inkling of what’s going on until a very specific point in the film. It’s not a short, 150 minutes, and this point happens reasonably early… forty-three minutes in or so.
The film develops awkwardly. Significant events occur and the film doesn’t stop. It keeps going after these impossible situations, resolving them, building on them. Besides it not being much like Hamlet, I think it didn’t occur to me it might even be Hamlet because of the feeling. It’s an incredibly tender film and playful film and I’ve never thought of Hamlet as tender or playful. The Bad Sleep Well probably has more feeling in it then any Kurosawa film I’ve seen.
It’s a great film and a perfect example of why writing about great films isn’t any fun. I mean, I don’t have anything to bitch about and its quality wasn’t a surprise. It’s kind of exciting to have seen it, found it (the Criterion DVD only came out a couple months ago, meaning it’s not one of Kurosawa’s best known works in the U.S.), but I really shouldn’t have been expecting anything but a great film. It’s just been too long since I’ve seen Kurosawa in his prime.