The Idiot (1951)

15 01 2008

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t see Akira Kurosawa as the great director that many make him out to be. I’d even go as far as to say that those samurai films are downright awful. Still, I was pretty sure I’d love this. To a degree, I did. There’s some moments that are just as good out of anything in The Lower Depths, which is probably my (now 2nd) favorite Kurosawa film. That claim doesn’t really amount to much since I don’t outrightly “love” that film, either. I can, however, admire Kurosawa’s intention on making much more character-driven films in contrast to his more popular samurai epics.

Kameda (Masayuki Mori) is a man who has avoided a death sentence. This makes him emotionally unstable, to say the least, and makes him very prone to blackout. His mental problems collide with his emotional ones; he’s caught in a love triangle between Taeko and Ayako played by Setsuko Hara and Yoshiko Kuga. At the same time, his friendship with Akama (Toshiro Mifune) is experiencing turmoil.

All the performances are really wonderful. Kurosawa doesn’t have a way with his actors as much as his peers did (at least he didn’t beat them a la Mizoguchi) but he definitely had some luck here. Mori is great even as a sort of proto-Rain Man/Forrest Gump character. Obviously, this is way better than either of those films. Hara is great as always, even as a completely different character from the one she plays in Ozu’s films. Yoshiko Kuga is very good too, much better than in Cruel Story of Youth (don’t remember her character) but not quite as great as her much more subdued persona in Equinox Flower. Even Toshiro Mifune, who I am almost never a fan of, is pretty good. He does get theatrical at times, but that’s pretty much what his performance called for. He downplays a lot of the violent instincts that I tend to associate with his acting style.

My problem with the film seems a bit superficial unfortunately. At times, it’s downbeat enough to feel like a less aesthetically rigorous Ozu film. Other times, it doesn’t feel that different from a lot of the melodramas that were coming out of America at the same time. Some of the dialogue is so stilted and laughable. “I’ve never met a man with heart that was so pure and true!” or something along those lines. This especially feels awkward put up against the very dated “emotional” score that is far too dominant in the film. Unfortunately, Shochiku cut about 100 minutes from the original version which leads to some very awkward pacing sequences. Towards the beginning, there’s intertitles that serve no purpose other than exposition and explaining what the scenes that were most likely cut. Thankfully, this goes away no more than twenty minutes into the film.

This is definitely a good film and perhaps under different circumstances, I can acknowledge it for the masterpiece that it’s made out to be. I have to agree with a lot of the films detractors, though. I think Kurosawa may have been literally when he adapted Dostoyevsky’s original story. I think the film would have benefited if a lot of the overly-dramatic sequences had been taken out, but I guess Kurosawa really just wanted to see all of the story on screen. Really all of my gripes with this are just things that are simply “not my style” which can be said for a lot of Kurosawa’s work. However, most of this is “my style” and maybe that’s why I think it’s Kurosawa’s best.