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The Bad Sleep Well: Kurosawa, Capitalism and Redemption

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    Online Merrian-Webster says to redeem is:

    Main Entry: re·deem

    Pronunciation: ri-ˈdēm

    Function: transitive verb

    Etymology: Middle English redemen, from Anglo-French redemer, modification of Latin redimere, from re-, red- re- + emere to take, buy; akin to Lithuanian imti to take

    Date: 15th century

    1 a : to buy back : repurchase b : to get or win back

    2 : to free from what distresses or harms: as a : to free from captivity by payment of ransom b : to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental c : to release from blame or debt : clear d : to free from the consequences of sin

    3 : to change for the better : reform

    4 : repair, restore

    5 a : to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby b (1) : to remove the obligation of by payment <the United States Treasury redeems savings bonds on demand> (2) : to exchange for something of value <redeem trading stamps> c : to make good : fulfill

    6 a : to atone for : expiate <redeem an error> b (1) : to offset the bad effect of (2) : to make worthwhile : retrieve

    synonyms see rescue

    Redemption is a major theme in Kurosawa films. Does redemption find a place in The Bad Sleep Well?

    In what way is capitalism a complicating factor?

    Much of the pleasure in watching Kurosawa films comes in thinking about how he complicates his material with contradictory and unexpectedly ambivalent vignettes. Kurosawa shows us that even the best person is flawed, but he often he seems most interested in the redemption of a person so flawed and off the straight and narrow he seems very close to being “bad”.

    In the thread discussing reporters, Vili says about the press:

    “But as long as article X sells Y number of papers and the pending lawsuit generates free publicity for the publication, it is worth the lawsuit expenses. It’s simple maths, really”.

    While that statement may be cynical or “realistic” depending on your vantage point, it is the kind of statement that I believe Kurosawa would have had trouble swallowing. I think he would have worried over a sentence like that, complicated it by trying to find exceptions, and in his mind, may have tried to work out ways “out” of the trap of capitalism and its runaway morality. Because, what Vili is suggesting in his statement is, of course, the basic tenet of capitalism, and illustrates absolutely beautifully the inherent moral complication in runaway greed for profit v.s. ethical considerations.

    I begin to think that Kurosawa may have come up against the most powerful, invasive, ubiquitous spook adversary in The Bad Sleep Well: capitalism at its most corrupt. Even death is dealt with “bip, bam, bom” in Red Beard as something rather straight forward and simple-it is one’s sins, trespasses, hurts and violations that are the focus of the film, not death-and it is a story mostly of redemption. But, then again, death is not nearly as big as money.

    That, in The Bad Sleep Well Kurosawa did not offer redemption to his protagonist, played by Mifune, nor his villain, played by Mori, seems to me to indicate the enormity of the issue of corruption, and its complete reality.

    I should have been very pleased to have seen a film in which Kurosawa was able to find redemption for his protagonist, and I think, in this way, the film is a failure (according to Kurosawa’s own standards) in that it does little more that quite sensationalistically shed light on evil. In that way, he acts not unlike the journalists he has such an ambivalent feeling toward. I know that it is valuable to see problems-but, Kurosawa usually tried to puzzle out a way for at least one of his characters be rescued from evil-a way out. There was no way out, here. I believe that this is one of my least favorite films because the violence (injecting Mifune’s character, leaving him in his car to be hit by an oncoming train!) does not reveal anything to us that we did not already know, and though it conveniently ends the film’s trajectory, it leaves us feeling the film itself was pointless beyond saying “corrupt capitalism is bad”. And, we knew that already.

    No, I prefer Kurosawa’s other film about the evils of capitalism: High and Low. The protagonist there is screwed by the vagaries of fate and the turning point comes in his final decision to be a “good” and moral man. He is redeemed (and the reporters serve as writers of the gospel according to Kurosawa and trumpet this reemption in the papers). Interestingly, we follow the villain more deeply into the abyss as the film progresses, and, in fact leave our protagonist behind for the most part. In the final climactic scene the two-with each their separate choices about how to proceed in life-meet. I find it immensely satisfying.

    I find the conclusion to the Bad Sleep Well much less appealing. In part, it illuminates the fact of our villain’s “uber-boss”. Suddenly, the villain becomes interesting, and I would like to learn more. Of course, High and Low came 3 years after The Bad Sleep Well. Perhaps by then he was ready to face runaway capitalism head-on.

    Redemption is a major point in Kurosawa’s films-from the very beginning in Sanshiro Sugata all the way through to Madadayo (I suggest to you that the teacher exhibits a way of living with sustained simplicity and goodness-and that is why he is offered a beautiful death). Redemption may be as dramatic as the healing of the young Otoyo in Red Beard, or as subtle as the acceptance of a bowl of rice offered by the peasants to Kambei in Seven Samurai.



    Great post – the other film I can think of where nobody gets redemption is Ran. Heck, nobody survives it!

    I think you’ve put your finger on one reason why The Bad Sleep Well seems unsatisfactory. It seems too easy to say ‘everyone loses’ (although of course it felt damn good to see that ‘everyone bad gets killed’ at the end of Yojimbo). As you say, there should have been some small element of redemption – a gesture towards his wife, for example (it still bugs me that he treated her so callously!). In Ran, the deep pessimism seems justified – everyone with control over their destiny was up to their eyes in the violence. But in the Bad Sleep Well, the Mifune character and his partner were at least theoretically trying to make things good – but they were not even given a tiny measure of redemption or even dignity at the end.



    Indeed, great post.

    I can agree a film in which everyone loses can be disappointing, perhaps boring, and often a cop-out. There is still some appreciative qualities regardless of ultimate audience feeling, in a movie to which despite valid attempts, the character either digs himself deeper, or never finds the way out of despair, and in both cases often exits out with little dignity. The only real flaw of such a thing, is the close following to realistic fashion of human tendency. If the audience is expecting to be drawn into a new world, a hopeful world, and the film delivers the opposite it appears to give off a negative appeal, which I now realize is common on this film, and certainly many Scorsese to whom follow nearly exclusively this theme.

    Personal, I never found an issue in coming out of a film, slightly down, the realization of the world even if presented too real, and thus negatively can still give off good feelings. To me if offers a increase the value of the characters, as they are getting knocked about by the same elements everyone else experiences. So while the movie of this sort, doesn’t offer a easy means to connect with the character, it is granting a similarity element rarely found in film to which characters comes out all roses and rainbows- à la Amélie (fantastic film by the way)

    The tools of men are blameless! Capitalism doesn’t necessitate immorally or greed, it merely becomes the whipping boy for immoral and greedy people to shield with. And anything that can be blame in replace of ourselves is always first put to the firing squad.

    For what less immorality would exist in a state run paper that uses falseness to push agenda or to suppress opposition? The end result is always greed, regardless if comes from the money of capitalism or the power of government control.

    Capitalism at least offers refusal to buy product, compete with product, or seek retribution from product, while other systems offer nothing.

    The only real moral is anyone stupid enough to think media presents truth, and is absent of agenda-is stupid.



    I blame my (now failed) affair with a Colombian man on Amelie, Jeremy. Ha! I’m not kidding. I believe that movies can impact the way you live your life-even if it is only for the moment when you let your guard down and take a chance on love. In my case, it ended not so happily. (I regret nothing, though.)

    In Kurosawa’s case, we might be noting in The Bad Sleep Well a moment when pessimism wins out but still can teach, and be of value. It just makes it a bit more difficult for me to hold close. Another film that is profoundly pessimistic is The Lower Depths. And yet, it is one of my favorites. Now you have me wanting to analyze why!

    Jeremy, you said,

    “The tools of men are blameless! Capitalism doesn’t necessitate immorally or greed, it merely becomes the whipping boy for immoral and greedy people to shield with.”

    I would say that capitalism is a magnificent tool for the greedy and corrupt to get what they desire. But, instead of saying the “evils of capitalism”, I should more properly state “the evil USES of capitalism”. I agree with your making that distinction and accept the correction!



    No hay amor sin dolor.

    I’m not sure films such as this, are intended to be held closely, they are typically the cold chill of reality that drives us to layer our clothing, then panic to peel them off after we fall in water.

    Lighter is a magnificent tool for the cold camper and a magnificent tool for the arsonist. 😆 The usage of evil exist in everything, we shouldn’t be so quick to crucify a thousand good purposes to avoid one bad. Again, all this does is throw blame on the inanimate, so we need not look into ourselves.




    “…all this does is throw blame on the inanimate, so we need not look into ourselves. “

    That goes into the quote bag. Absolutely right, and thanks for the succinct and useful reminder!



    I steered the conversation off course, but in my defense of capitalism, I wasn’t necessary disagreeing in your synopsis. Capitalism in Japan did become very corrupt quickly, the main reason I don’t think however is actually capitalism, but the ending of a militaristic nation. The same power and money corruption that ended after the war from militarism , just shifted to more legitimate enterprises, with more open allowance methods within capitalism, and in some extent increased the already corrupt abilities. What was once corruption for government power, went to corruption for money, and with money you too can gain government power, but this money brought power outside Japan(look into the 70’s-80’s Japanese expansion in the Europe and America). This is one drive that deepen the problems Japan had already, but at no point did capitalism start the problem.

    Japan has always dealt with the extreme dangers of capitalism, with the capitalist nature in Japan being far more expanded in Japan then America, largely based on Japanese culture, or perhaps a lack of modern culture, then having one forced upon it very quickly. The easiest example that can even been seen today, is prices. Where America and Europe will shop around for price, complain about prices, and compare real worth to perceived worth, to the point where companies price an item with little profit just to compete, even losing money in some case for market-share.

    Japan in general does not. Really since the end of the world, Japanese companies would state a price, and the people would pay it without question. Companies would take advantage of this, and price gouge; within the drive for ridiculous profit in overpricing a product, the somewhat low-level corruption would transfer to inside the companies were it was taken to the extreme(as with most things in Japan).

    This of course is just a surface scratch of the problem. I think the real issue at hand is the method of education. Where the west is taught to think deeply and analyze. The Japanese are more taught, remember what we tell you, and don’t question it. Japan still maintains a very, for the masses mindset, where individuality, and creativity, are not encouraged; just mass remembering.

    The issue appears to have slowed, or at least in the last 10 years of so, you’re starting to see more out breaking of individuals. Which is actually causing it own problems, with the Japanese work force being made of mostly temporary workers, and the young with no desire to get “real” jobs or no jobs at all Then of course that is mixed in with the sheep-like-workers, were work is all they are. Tied all into the recent-developing, family separations, were the young are breaking away from long traditional of sticking with the family.

    This can go on and on, so getting back to capitalism: you’ll still find the $50 DVD or the $30 watermelon, and the $100 plain T-shirt that says “I love shoe bags” or “Rock is spirit of good life happiness”. The Japanese do not question why they pay 3-4 times too much, and if you tell them in America, DVDs are $15 and Watermelons are buy one, get one free $5, and their $100 shirt is $1 in America, and makes no sense in proper English. They will only say, it’s because our products are more dangerous, and not as good-just as they are taught.

    I think I got off topic again. 😛 Just the neat thing about Japan, you’ll always find every idea taking to absolute most extreme, were all it flaws that are not seen elsewhere are exposed.

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