Scandal presents an incredibly humane side of Kurosawa, one his historical pictures don’t convey. He shows the desperate sadness of people and offers little visible hope throughout. There’s one scene, when the protagonist (played by Mifune Toshirô) and the main character (Shimura Takashi) come across a pond reflecting the stars and Mifune comments about the frequent beauty one finds in daily life. Scandal isn’t so much about those aesthetic moments, rather the type of person who can fully appreciate them. Mifune’s character, a painter, has it a little easier than Shimura, the alcoholic, gambling lawyer, but that scene equalizes them and allows them to communicate.
Mifune kept reminding me of Gregory Peck in this film–maybe because of the pipe (though I don’t think Peck had the pipe until later than 1950). He’s handsome and kind and he’s definitely the protagonist–but he’s not the main character. Or maybe he’s the main character and Shimura is the protagonist. I can’t remember… The Oxford says the main character and the protagonist used to the same, but in the modern sense, there’s room for a main character and a protagonist. In a Kurosawa film of this era, there’s definite room. He’s not as loose as usual with his character emphasis, but again, until forty minutes into the film, I didn’t know who the story was going to track. Shimura is in lots of Kurosawa films (in addition, of course, to Godzilla), but Scandal is his finest work. His role is the fallen character Renoir never could work out and Kurosawa does it instinctively. Instead of using the character sparsely–as the viewer painfully watches him repeatedly fail everyone he cares about–Kurosawa keeps it going, keeps bringing him back, keeps the viewer in as much pain as the character is in… and he or she is just as able to change the character’s behavior as the character is able to do.
Scandal is really early, so Kurosawa hadn’t gone over to scope yet and watching the film, one can see him pushing the frame. I’ve never seen Kurosawa projected and I realized almost immediately, these squarer images were just as breathtaking as his other framings. I suppose it’s one of the drawbacks of letterboxing–you realize what you’re missing by not seeing it in the theater. Since Scandal is so early, since the story is so traditional (a magazine slanders a romantically innocent pair of celebrities), and since Mifune is such a traditional leading man, it’s shocking when Kurosawa breaks the film out of the traditional form. There’s a wonderful scene at the end: on the right side of the frame are the two heroes and their amiable sidekick and on the left is Shimura. Kurosawa keeps it all in focus–Scandal has no relieving close-ups either–and the scene just goes on for a little while. Something about the positioning of the actors while surveying the desperation… in that shot, it is immediately clear how important a storyteller Kurosawa already was and was going to be.
Scandal is, of course, not readily available in the United States. I watched the UK Masters of Cinema DVD release, which–just like the last Masters of Cinema release I watched–had video problems, this time with interlacing. The film was available on VHS in the States, from Criterion’s parent company’s VHS arm, so maybe there’s a nice region 1 edition in the works.
The most pleasant part about Scandal is it gets better as it goes along, constantly building toward its final achievement.