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Scandal: The Rewrite

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    lawless

    It seems like everyone, including Kurosawa himself, thinks the screenplay is flawed. But how would you fix it?

    As I see it, the movie’s main flaws are that it’s too sentimental; the focus shifts too much from the scandal to the lawyer; there are scenes that, while well-written in and of themselves, don’t really advance the story or work against it, and some of the motivations and actions don’t make sense.

    As for the first, I’d take out Aoe’s first meeting with the daughter altogether and substitute his learning about her illness offscreen. I’d cut back or eliminate the scene in which Hiruta apologizes to his daughter, but I’d keep the visit with the Christmas tree. I find the way Aoe waxes rhapsodic about how innocent and pure Masako is cringe-inducing.

    The above would also serve to take the focus of Hiruta. Focus on his corruption and the reason for it. The movie never even says, let alone hints, that he’s using the money to pay for her medical expenses and make her days more comfortable. Of all the reasons for taking bribes, that’s one of the most sympathetic ones. It makes more sense to me as a reason why Aoe might know that Hiruta is ripping him off but still keep him as counsel than what Aoe actually says.

    The New Year party scene, while good in and of itself, doesn’t seem to advance the movie. It might be argued that Hiruta’s resolution to be a better man during the New Year does, but then it’s undermined by what he does at the trial.

    In our discussion of Sansho the Bailiff, several of us said that the main character’s motivation was never shown and therefore they found his actions unconvincing. I argued that his motivation could be inferred from his actions. I find Aoe and Hiruta’s motivations at various points in this movie far more unconvincing than that of the main character in Sansho, probably because Aoe and Hiruta’s actions don’t make much sense and aren’t consistent. I’m still a bit puzzled why Aoe kept Hiruta on if he knew he was cheating him, or didn’t at least confront him and ask for an explanation. And Hiruta’s motivation seemed inconsistent; he’d be remorseful and vow to do better, then not act on it.

    Finally, many of the things the defense counsel says and does are implausible. I don’t know about the Japanese legal system, but in ours, defense counsel wouldn’t raise questions about the basis for the suit in trial at open court. He’d do it in a pre-trial motion or, if the facts didn’t come out until trial, in private in the judge’s chambers. Moreover, the fact that the witnesses were found and produced would be enough to survive a motion to dismiss the case and sanction the plaintiff and his attorneys under federal law. Too much of what happens at trial seems to be conveniently manipulated, rather than plausible, in order to produce the end result. Perhaps Kurosawa would have been better off hiring a lawyer as a consultant to check the plausibility of his plot devices and suggest alternatives.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I agree with Kurosawa and lawless. The screenplay is flawed.

    Do you think: Hiruta may have taken the money and may have drunk (drank?) it away. I think that’s a tragically craven possibility…but, then, it makes the happy ending that much less plausible.

    “Perhaps Kurosawa would have been better off hiring a lawyer as a consultant to check the plausibility of his plot devices and suggest alternatives.”

    I think you are right there, lawless.

    If it’s not too despicable to say so (and I am going to say so, so I apologize if I offend), Mifune’s motorcycle getup, his virile, handsome good looks (he’s never been dishier) and his role as an artist ! are reasons enough to find Scandal worth my time. But, lawless, you are right-the acting is top-notch, and that, too, fills in for what legal and logical holes exist.

    Yes, the screenplay is flawed. It’s amazing that we can spend any time on Hiruta’s story-chalk that up to Kurosawa’s genius-and Shimura’s!

    One might start a thread called “The Role of Titillation in Kurosawa’s Ouvre” that could address all the tempting flashes of bravado, of manly courage, or just physical wholesomeness…and then, of course, one would write “Illness and Disease in Kurosawa’s Ouvre”. One could discuss everything from the mental deterioration of Hidetora in Ran to the final scene in The Lower Depths. And some attention for the alcoholic lawyer of Scandal, too.

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    lawless

    Coco – Heh, we may be talking to ourselves here, but I agree that this movie and role showcases Mifune’s physical attractiveness better than any other I’ve seen of Kurosawa’s.

    I thought about including a tip to his status as an artist and the amusing conversation he has with the three locals in the beginning about painting the mountain in my comment on the main thread for the movie but didn’t because I felt it was too much of a digression in something that was already long enough. And I love the woman who is his model; she’s so sassy and perceptive. Kurosawa created some great supporting roles for women, but not, after The Most Beautiful, No Regrets and One Wonderful Sunday, that many major or starring roles for women.

    What bugs me most about this movie is the feeling that if Kurosawa made a few different choices, it could have been, if not an excellent movie, a really good one. To me, while Hiruta’s dilemma — sell out or represent his client ethically — resonates, and makes this more than a movie about the scandal, it also unbalances the movie. For me, not only is the part about the scandal more interesting, it’s better written.

    I thought the way it hinted at unexpressed feelings between Aoe and Saito (his refusing to put the painting up for sale, her interest in buying it, which suggested that it had sentimental value) was well-handled. 1/3 to 1/2 of the movie, including all of the first thirty minutes, is excellent and to me as good as, say, Drunken Angel, which is the earliest movie of his that I love unreservedly.

    To that list, I’d add “The Role of Urban Swamps.” One plays a role in Drunken Angel and Ikiru and at least one other movie the identity of which I don’t remember. Stray Dog, maybe? Is there one in Dodesukaden?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Right, there’s a garbage dump in Dodesukaden (= dry cesspool?).

    I guess Keiko McDonald wrote about the sumps.

    Hey, lawless, I think you are right about the arc of the film. The beginning, those first 30 minutes promise something so fresh and exciting…and then, by the courtroom scenes at the end, it’s a different film altogether.

    Could it have been a really good film? On the bare bones of the story itself, I don’t actually think that Shimura’s confession of bribery at the end is “heroic”. Overshadowing all of it is the story of Masako’s illness. I think that’s an entirely different film-it’s much too big for this slight film. I can see the film either going for light and breezy or big and tragic, but unfortunately, it appears to have gone for both.

    What if, instead, Kurosawa had made a screwball comedy? There are some promising scenes already shot! Just a little rearrangement of the central dilemma and some adjustment to the sick daughter’s story….

    Or, if it is a big social film, less focus about the “Scandal” (I can’t get that worked up about the “scandal” anyway…in fact I am rooting for a romance between the two!) and more on the actual illness, drunkenness, redemption stuff.

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    lawless

    Coco – I am fond of stories about the intrusiveness of the media and the cult of celebrity that drives it, so the “scandal” itself interests me because of that. I’d like to have seen a movie that concentrates on that and how it affects the romance that might otherwise bud between the two of them. (I’m rooting for it too!)

    The way in which Shimura’s confession is heroic is that he took responsibility instead of shirking it and condemned himself to whatever sanctions there are for unethical behavior–suspension at the least, possibly disbarment, both of which would cause his family to suffer.

    With regard to the uncertainty as to what use he’s put the bribes he’s received: Usually, leaving that open-ended would be a better artistic choice, but here it’s not because it adds to the lack of clarity about the character’s motivations. Is he pitiful and weak-willed but well-intentioned, which is how he comes across to me, or something else? How should we feel about him?

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    Ugetsu

    Unfortunately I’m still suffering technical glitches (i.e. a broken DVD), so I can’t watch the film again to remind myself of the details, but I would broadly agree with Lawless’s interpretation of the films problems.

    To me, while Hiruta’s dilemma — sell out or represent his client ethically — resonates, and makes this more than a movie about the scandal, it also unbalances the movie. For me, not only is the part about the scandal more interesting, it’s better written.

    I agree with this – I assume this comes from the theme of the film having been ‘hijacked’ by the character of Hiruta, but it does seem that the screenwriters lost focus and couldn’t quite decide on the film they were trying to make. This, I think, weakens the focus in the end about Hiruta’s dilemma.

    The above would also serve to take the focus of Hiruta. Focus on his corruption and the reason for it. The movie never even says, let alone hints, that he’s using the money to pay for her medical expenses and make her days more comfortable. Of all the reasons for taking bribes, that’s one of the most sympathetic ones. It makes more sense to me as a reason why Aoe might know that Hiruta is ripping him off but still keep him as counsel than what Aoe actually says.

    I’m going from memory here, but my interpretation of what I saw is somewhat different. I assumed when watching it that Hiruta was not being deliberately corrupt – he was simply lured into it by the newspaper editor, who correctly identified what a weak and indecisive man Hiruta was. I don’t think he had any motive for corruption other than the fact that he was essentially entrapped into being corrupt. As for Aoe, I’m not sure if he knew about the bribe? He obviously knew Hiruta wasn’t up to much, but I assumed he was as surprised at anyone to hear he’d actually taken money.

    Finally, many of the things the defense counsel says and does are implausible. I don’t know about the Japanese legal system, but in ours, defense counsel wouldn’t raise questions about the basis for the suit in trial at open court. He’d do it in a pre-trial motion or, if the facts didn’t come out until trial, in private in the judge’s chambers. Moreover, the fact that the witnesses were found and produced would be enough to survive a motion to dismiss the case and sanction the plaintiff and his attorneys under federal law. Too much of what happens at trial seems to be conveniently manipulated, rather than plausible, in order to produce the end result. Perhaps Kurosawa would have been better off hiring a lawyer as a consultant to check the plausibility of his plot devices and suggest alternatives.

    I agree that the mechanics of the court scene were (to modern eyes) very poorly done, although I wonder if Kurosawa simply didn’t think that accuracy mattered as few in the audience would know how a court worked – they would only have seen that sort of court scene in American movies. From the little I know of the period, there was an almost unprecedented change in Japanese law, where pretty much all the old law was thrown out and replaced with American based law wholesale. I would imagine that this resulted in complete confusion for a few years. I’ve pondered whether Kurosawa actually intended the scene to subtly satirize the way the Japanese had been forced to adopt a system they had only seen before in movies with James Stewart, although that may be stretching things too far. As one of the things I love so much about Kurosawa films is their precise foundation in the ‘real world’ and how it works, I’ve always found this part of the film to be very jarring – one part of me says it was, as you suggest, just a lack of research, but I also can’t help thinking that it was deliberately artificial and even a little theatrical for a reason.

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    Vili Maunula

    What a fascinating thread! I agree with all of you — the acting is very good but the script just doesn’t quite work. I would say that the problem is that we have at least three stories crammed into one screenplay which is unable to hold it all together. The whole is a lot weaker than the potential sum of its parts.

    In Scandal, we have:

    1. A protest film about the power of the media, which asks questions about free speech and privacy, among other things.

    2. A love story between a painter and a singer.

    3. A somewhat dostoevskian story about a lawyer who battles his own demons while trying to do the right thing and help his sick daughter.

    They are all good stories, but somehow the film ends up almost completely undermining storyline 1, only hints at storyline 2, and puts its energies into storyline 3, but does so far too late, therefore confusing us with a major focus shift almost half-way through the film and also leaving itself too little time to properly explore the theme.

    My suggestion is that instead of abandoning anything, someone should rewrite Scandal into a trilogy — or rather, a triptych. Each of the three films would be about the same events, but they would be narrated from the three angles mentioned above. They would be stylistically different films (a serious socio-political work, a feel-good romantic film, a human drama), their stories would take place parallelly, but would concentrate on different aspects of the same events.

    The three works would be released simultaneously. Audiences could choose which one(s) they want to see, and in what order.

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    cocoskyavitch

    An elegant solution, Vili-the Rashomonization of Scandal! Wait-have you hit on something, Vili? Was Kurosaw also troubled/intrigued by the threads not holding together?

    Hmmmm…1950 Scandal, 1951 Rashomon!

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    Vili Maunula

    Like I mentioned in my introduction, I think that Rashomon‘s theme of subjective truths is already alluded to in Scandal. The picture that is behind the scandal is an accurate snapshot of what really happened, but it lacks the bigger picture and its meaning is on purpose misinterpreted by the press. Or is it? This is the question that Scandal perhaps could have answered — and what my Film #2, the romantic one, would concentrate on.

    But Rashomon wasn’t really what I had in my mind with my triptych. It would not really question the turn of events, but would rather just show the same events through three different stories, and three different film styles. It should be a good deal for the production company too — make three films with the production costs of one and a half! And they could save in marketing costs as well. To be honest, I don’t know why all films aren’t made like that!

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    cocoskyavitch

    Or Vili, what about this idea, seriously: The three stylistically different films all in one film, going over similar time frames from these three different perspectives. I don’t think that’s been done, yet, has it? (Please do jump in if you can point to a film that does that). It might be a fascinating postmodern look at filmmaking genres, and how cinematic narratives work in each respective style.

    I would have loved to see the love story more fully developed.

    I would have loved for the lawyer battling his demons story to be broken out.

    I don’t get too much traction on the actual Scandal-but, then, it was given short shrift in the end. Broken out and focussed-on from the perspective of the Amour team might be more interesting!

    What I was suggesting above, the relationship of Scandal to Rashomon, is that very possibly, Scandal’s failings make it possible for Rashomon. He simply must unwind the most important thread and look at it closely. Unlike Prince’s evaluation of the “minor” films as rests from major undertakings, I think the “minor” films can be seen as the quarry…the place where he digs up cinematic ideas that are later transformed.

    Perhaps Hiruta in Scandal and Sanada in Drunken Angel are pretty much the same guy…an idea of a guy…and that Ikiru is the resolution of the character originally quarried in the other films.

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco, I have no idea if the triptych idea has been done, but it does sound like a concept simple enough for someone else to also have come up with it by now. Whether it’s actually a filmable idea, I don’t know. I think that it would at least be an interesting experiment.

    And yes, you are right, the film dealing with the actual scandal should indeed be narrated from the perspective of the Amour team. Richie argued that Kurosawa made the tabloid journalists a little too two-dimensional, and I would agree. In our rewrite, we could round those characters, and explore why it is that they do what they do.

    I agree with you that Kurosawa’s so-called “minor” films were not resting places, but quite on the contrary, places where Kurosawa explored his skills and perhaps took a couple of missteps. Like I have said before, I don’t think that Kurosawa ever made a “perfect film”; he always seemed to take a little more on his plate than he could deal with. But that’s exactly what makes his films so damn interesting. He pushed his limits and in doing so, also pushed the limits of cinema and narrative arts.

    I would also agree that Watanabe in Ikiru feels like the product of a gestation period which went though Drunken Angel and Scandal. It took him a couple of films to find the right place and story for that character. Not that there is anything wrong with Drunken Angel, mind you.

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