The Bad Sleep Well reminded me a lot of The Godfather. Both films begin with a large wedding, where the story behind the wedding is more fascinating than the event itself. Both films are also about corruption, what it means to be loyal, and what happens if you do favors for the wrong people. The Bad Sleep Well is particularly meaningful to our modern society, as instead of the subject of the film being gangsters, the focus is on the new heavies on the block… corrupt corporate heads. In the wake of the scandals at Tyco, Worldcom, Enron and others, this 1963 film carries new weight for American audiences.
Kurosowa was famous for his samurai films, and this modern film still carries some of those same themes. The Lords have moved from the countryside to the boardroom, but the pressure to perform and protect the organization at all costs remains. Those warriors in the support roles are compelled to defend the actions of the corporation even with their own lives, if it comes to that. This film is part film noir, part corporate drama, and yes, part samurai film.
This is a fairly aggressive soundtrack for Japanese mono. The dialog is clear, and the fantastic score is powerful and surprisingly subtle for a 1960’s mono track. It seems clear that Criterion has gone to great lengths to clean up this soundtrack, as they almost always do. There is one scene in particular which revolves around a safe deposit box that is driven almost entirely by the score. It reminds me quite a bit of several of the scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and that is high praise indeed.
I was pleased with the quality of the video on this disc. The images are clean and clear, with very little grain. There are some problems with flicker here and there, but it is not a major problem. Black levels are deep, and whites are bright. Kurosowa, as always, does a masterful job of framing his shots. As this film is shot in the extra-wide format of 2.35:1, he takes extra care to utilize every part of the frame to tell his story.
The images also have a film noir element to them, which is not something I was expecting to find in a Japanese film. Dark shadows, men in hats and overcoats, lies and betrayal fill this 2-hour masterpiece. One particularly poignant scene involves a character previously believed to be dead walking in and out of the shadows in a back alley. Is he actually there, or are the viewer’s eyes betraying them? Thanks to the fine quality of the transfer, this segment is believable and terrifying. The dark shadows of the film give the viewer a not-so-obvious sense of the secrets that lie behind the men in the story. This is visual storytelling at its finest.
There are just a few extras on this disc, but as always, they are of high quality. In addition to the original theatrical trailer, there are also two essays included in the package; one by film scholar Robert Combs, and another by screenwriter-director Michael Almereyda. Criterion has gotten into the habit of including these essays in many of their recent releases, and I think it is a great way to add some quality content to a product while adding very little to the disc’s production cost.
The disc wraps up with a 36-minute making-of featurette that is much more than the typical electronic press kit that shows up all too often on discs these days. This is a very well produced piece that is comprised of interviews with those that worked on the film, and includes many images of the early handwritten drafts of the script and the storyboards. Fans of this film will be thrilled with the quality of the content in this documentary.
It has been said time and time again, but it still rings true; Criterion has yet again put together a fantastic version of a film that may not have gotten the attention it deserves otherwise. The Bad Sleep Well is a wonderful and poignant film, and it has special meaning in today’s business climate.