Thursday, March 18, 2010

Scandal (1950)


Up and coming artist (Toshiro Mifune), and famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi), hire gambling addicted lawyer (Takashi Shimura) to file a case against a tabloid magazine after they falsely claim the two celebrities were taking part in a vacation affair.

Kurosawa's 1950 film Scandal, often forgotten due to its close proximity to legendary Rashomon, is an intriguing look at the notion of: just how much freedom should the press have? To be honest, it's quite obvious even from the get go, Kurosawa looks very negatively on tabloid press. The film is incredibly one-sided, almost to a point of comical villains, while our two main characters are portrayed as the saint-like heroes. It's not Kurosawa's most well involved, and deeply analytical tale... which is perhaps why it gets overlooked so often.

The only real character with any depth would be Takashi Shimura's gambling addicted lawyer with a sickly daughter who is bribed to throw the case... yeah, that's a mouthful. Though as you know Shimura plays the part perfectly, utilizing the same downtrodden attitude that would later become apart of his classic portrayal in Ikiru. Mifune and Yamaguchi are perfect counteracts, and do manage to input some depth into their roles, especially on the cost of dealing with fame, and social annexation. It provides a nice depth, and likability to their role, and a want for us to cheer for them, but it's not all that necessary as the "villains" are far too cardboard cutout.

Directionally this is a very straight forward Kurosawa effort. His plot is simple, concise, and to the point. The characters are given ample time to develop, both inside the court room, and outside in their daily interactions. A few sequences, notably the Mifune and Shimura drunken exchange by the swamp, are highly memorable, and provide a great deal of insight to the world of Japan at the time. A world caught between traditional values and impeding western customs. It's a highly intriguing time, there's just not enough depth to elevate it to classic level.

Scandal is by no means a bad Kurosawa film. On the contrary it's a perfectly entertaining, and intriguing court room drama. Still, there's just not enough depth to really recommend an unwavering viewing.

4 better thoughts:

The Floating Red Couch said...

I haven't seen this one, but for my money, no director does a "drinking with your boss" scene better than Kurosawa. Except maybe Ozu

Alex said...

This is an interesting premise, so it's too bad it isn't handled with as much complexity as it could be. It's frustrating to me when a good story can be marred by one-dimensional characters, even if they are villains.

It sounds like I'll probably still like it though, since I do enjoy courtroom intrigue!

Alex DeLarge said...

Love the website, good work! I'm also reviewing every film in the Kurosawa Box Set and am up to Seven Samauri: check out my site and enjoy:)

I thought SCANDAL pretty absurd, especially the opening scenes: it was just contrived a set-up. The film only comes alive when the crooked attorney is introduced, and the second half seems to be an entirely different film. But even a "bad" Kurosawa creation pretty much trumps most other director best work! There are a few things of note in SCANDAL: the use of off-screen sound and composition.

Mifune and Yamaguchi are wasted in their roles, but Shimura turns in a painfully honest performance and it's his epiphany that matters.

Univarn said...

@Couch Very true, here it's definitely the most honest, and emotional moment of the film.

@Alex Perhaps, but Kurosawa usually does such a good job with characters, the quantity of one-dimensional characters here is a bit saddening.

@Alex DeLarge (two Alex's ahhh!) Cool, I'll definitely check it out. I think Scandal is passable as an entertainment based film, but it lacks the depth if you're stuck reviewing on the Kurosawa scale.

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