Sunday, 24 January 2010

Scandal (1950)

Country: JAPAN


1950 saw the release of two films by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The first Scandal has largely remained an obscurity in Kurosawa’s filmography, far overshadowed by the second film of the year Rashomon. The latter introduced western audiences to a new world of Japanese cinema when it scooped the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. Kurosawa was soon heralded as an artistic genius and feted by art cinema enthusiasts eager for something outside their experiential world. The historical films of Kurosawa often betray their indebtedness to Hollywood, Rashomon however is the most atypical of his historical adventures in its attitude to point of view and subjectivity, which perhaps accounts for its art circuit success. Personally I have always found Kurosawa’s contemporary set social dramas to be more interesting, and as a representation of the complexities, anxieties, and dilemma’s of a Japan occupied by a foreign force Scandal emerges as a more important film than Rashomon from a socio/historical point of view.

This is very much a film of two halves, and the opening section is (unusually for a Kurosawa film) rambling and listless, and on occasion highly sentimental. The film opens with artist Ichiro Aoye (a restrained and unconvincing Toshiro Mifune) blazing his way across the countryside on a motorbike (the image of the motorbike recurs throughout the film and is symbolic of both the American occupation and the freedoms of democracy embodied in the frontier spirit of travel). This immediately signifies that Aoye is a man divided. This is further confirmed by his attitude to art, which eschews traditional styles in favour of a modern and individualistic approach. When he and popular singer Miyako Saijo (Yoshiko Yamaguchi) are photographed together at a holiday resort, the sensationalist magazine Amour concocts a story of an affair, and when it comes to issues of honour and privacy Aoye shows himself to embody traditional values as he embarks on a lawsuit to clear his name. Whilst this first half sets up the dramatic thrust of the film, and Kurosawa makes some good use of montage editing, he seems more determined to develop characters who are without dimension - the editor of Amour for example is pure evil, out only too exploit. Kurosawa had personal reasons for attacking the press in this way, and whilst it was admirable that he made a film about the paparazzi and their invasiveness, the result are characters that fall into stereotype and a rather simplistic moral structure.

This is balanced in the second half of the film when the character of Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) is introduced. As the prosecuting attorney Hiruta is strictly small time, full of moral and personal insecurities, open to bribes, world weary and brow beaten, with a daughter slowly dying from Tuberculosis. Hiruta becomes a walking allegory for a country still adjusting to life under an occupying force. In the frail form of Shimura (whose career best performance in Ikiru (1952) was just around the corner) we see weakness in the face of temptation, but also strength and recuperation. His decision to reject the editor’s bribe is in many ways a rejection of a certain type of imported Americanism. It must be noted however that Kurosawa thrived in the post war years, and in many ways Scandal is a film that documents internal division and anxieties without outwardly criticising the regime that has put them in place. Scandal ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions, and suffers as a result of it being far too personally connected to events in Kurosawa’s life. The principal themes of truth, honesty, integrity, and privacy were all under question in the post war body politic of Japan and Kurosawa can at least be commended for exploring these concerns instead of taking the easy option and retreating into an historical netherworld of swordplay and samurai.

© Shaun Anderson 2010

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