The Bad Sleep Well: or, Welcome to the Philippines
I’ve written three drafts regarding this film, and I think all my drafts have failed. It’s so hard to put this film into words. But since summarizing the movie didn’t really help me, I’ll just write about my perceptions regarding the film and hope it’s sensible and cogent enough.
Akira Kurosawa has been known to be among the greatest film directors in the world. His greatest films are among the most imitated: Seven Samurai has been adapted into different films, and even an anime series. Yojimbo became Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Throne of Blood was recognized by the preeminent Harold Bloom to be one of the best Shakespearean adaptations he has seen on film. Only Yasujiro Ozu is perhaps more revered by film directors and critics, and that’s even a coin toss.
I’ve watched Kurosawa’s Dreams about ten years ago, because it was required viewing by our tasteful English professor. I didn’t think much of it, although I thought it was a good film. While I’ve intended to watch his more popular films since then, I guess I didn’t really want to, as I didn’t prepare time for those.
It’s only been recently that I’ve used great movies to bond with my father. I guess I’ve been exposed to real life and medical cases for too long that I’ve forgotten to enjoy films that pique both the mind and the heart. What I had started with Friedkin’s Sorcerer I kept up, until I eventually stumbled into Akira Kurosawa.
I’ve had Throne of Blood on my PC for about six months. I just didn’t really want to watch it. I wanted to watch a more contemporary film made by him, so I waited until I discovered that Kurosawa made a loose adaptation to Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in the 1960s.
Its title was The Bad Sleep Well. The Criterion Collection certainly made it look attractive: its front-cover picture was a white building on a black background with a prominent red X on one of its floors.
The only mistake I made when watching the film was that I watched it during night-time. It’s a film that takes its time with its build-up, so one needs to pay utmost attention with its conversations and character interactions: it’s not for those who enjoy the rampant shallowness and the anti-intellectualism that pervades Philippines today. Toshiro Mifune still stars in this film (Mifune starred in all of Kurosawa’s great films except Ran) but unlike his long-haired and bearded counterparts in Kurosawa’s samurai films he is clean-shaven and quiet as Nishi. This film shows that he is a masterful actor because he is equally able to present characters who are larger-than-life and violent as he is able to show brooding, quiet, and highly intelligent ones.
Mifune ditches the dirt and the beard and replaces the kimono with a suit, yet still acts extremely well.
The film is subtle: in fact, to me it’s been insidious. It’s the kind of film that one nods off to at times because of its deliberate pace but grows on the viewer after the ending credits have appeared. Looking back, it’s probably one of the best films I’ve seen this year. The opening scene is well-filmed: a momentous occasion such as a wedding of the daughter of the firm’s head is sullied by the suggestion of corruption at the highest levels of the firm. The press that covers the wedding is suspicious, but powerless.
The Bad Sleep Well is a 1960’s film, but it could have been alternatively titled ‘Welcome to the Philippines.’ The viewer first questions whether Nishi is a good or bad person. He crosses the line between good and evil too many times for the viewer to figure out until the film’s latter half. One, however, ultimately discovers his motivation and his struggle to be moral. Similar to Heneral Luna, however, the film ends on a somber tone: those who will good and do good are often buried in corruption and bureaucracy. The film has very strong historical bases, too: during the time of Stalinist Russia, it wasn’t those who were morally pure or idealistically noble who survived. Those who pandered to Stalin the best became his right-hand men. The sycophants survived, while the pure and ethical were murdered. The film was also extremely timely during its release: issues of deep-seated corruption pervaded the Japanese government during the 1960s as well.
It is a film I can recommend to very few people. It’s a film that takes patience and focus, both of which are in dearth in this time and age. It is a very rewarding film, however: first, it was done by Kurosawa; second, it’s a timeless commentary on the ills of society and sycophancy; and finally, it’s a damn good film with great actors.