Nippon Noir: Not everyone wants to be found

The Bad Sleep Well (Japan 1960)

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960) is a caustic tale of corporate corruption and greed, where the surface hides the ugly truth.  The death of a fall guy thrown from a multi-story office block in central Tokyo precipitates a simmering revenge by the victim’s son. Using a stolen identity he marries the crippled daughter of the firm’s boss.  The plan is meticulously orchestrated, and skewers the boss’s henchmen slowly, as the noose is gathered and readied to lasso the ‘big’ man – who despite his slight build and grandfatherly persona is a vicious thug – a “family man”.

But as in all noirs, where plans have the perverse habit of falling apart, the elaborate scheme unravels disastrously – and tragically. There is plenty of melodrama which is heavily stylized, and for western audiences rather mannered.

The opening set piece of the wedding reception for the daughter’s marriage,  where a chorus of muck-raking journalists gate-crashes the party, is a truly bravado introduction to the protagonists and the ensuing narrative.  A wedding cake in the shape of company headquarters with some unorthodox decoration is the centrepiece.  The glitz and confected purity is witheringly deconstructed as panicked minions are confronted with confounding and troubling portents.

While the rest of the film plays out with competence it feels like a let-down. Definitely worth a look but stamina and patience are needed.

 

The Ruined Map

“But I was the one standing here now. There was no mistake, I was the one. I thought I was following the husband’s map, but I was following my own; I wanted to follow in his steps and I followed my own. Suddenly I was frozen still. But it was not only because of the cold… nor was it the fault of the liquor alone, nor of my shame. My perplexity gave way to uneasiness, and that changed to fear.”

 

Kobo Abe’s 1967 novel, The Ruined Map, was adapted in 1968 as a film titled, The Man Without a Map, by director Hiroshi Teshigahara. I recently read the book and found it weirdly reminiscent of Chandler’s Los Angeles, and Hammett’s continental op.

Abe’s disorienting detective story is set in a windy alienating metropolis which is never named but is surely Tokyo, and which could as easily have been played out in LA’s bunker hill – a bizarro locale if you will, framed with hard-boiled prose redolent of the desolate poetry of Raymond Chandler. An unnamed private investigator is assigned the job of locating a missing person.

The missing guy as described by the pining wife is the essence of banality. He leaves a trail – but it leads nowhere. For his trouble the dick has to fight succumbing to the sex that emanates from the wife. She is neither young nor beautiful, and can’t be trusted, with an emotional distance that confounds any notion that she really wants the husband back, but… her skin, the way her hair falls, and the languor. Add to the mix the woman’s brother a second-rate hoodlum, a hint of incest, a gang of gay rent boys, a taxi racket operated by thugs, and a protagonist who you can’t help suspect is maybe borderline incompetent.

Sort of like a story written by an AI channelling Chandler and Hammett – if those guys were tripping on peyote and not their usual bourbon.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s