Scandal – 1950

Director Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Starring Toshirō Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Shirley Yamaguchi, Noriko Sengoku, Yoko Katsuragi

Scandal is an effective, if somewhat polished, look into the world of Japan’s relationship with the paparazzi, circa 1950. The story feels personal, yet compact. This is Kurosawa in the midst of stardom, and he wants the viewer to know how it feels, without a hint of irony.

The story he and co-writer choose to tell has Mifune and Yamaguchi as Ichirō Aoye (artist) and Miyako Saijo (famous singer). Through an intricate set up in the first act, they are caught in the midst of a scandal derived from photographs that are in actuality, quite innocent. The photo is accompanied by a salacious story that has no truth whatsoever. When Aoye assaults the editor of the magazine, the story explodes.

At this point, Shimura’s Lawyer Hiruta enters the scene, convincing Aoye that he’s the legal counsel who can help set things right. Aoye is unsure, but once he investigates, he discovers more about Hiruta. He has a humble office located on the 5th floor of a building with only 4 floors. When he looks through the office on the roof, he sees that Hiruta has a young daughter who is suffering from tuberculosis. After meeting her, he is convinced that he has the right person for the job.

There are complications, of course. From these complications we see the real star of the film is once more Shimura. At this point in both of their careers, it has become obvious that Kurosawa has made the choice of using Shimura for all of the heavy lifting in his films. This is due, solely to the fact that Shimura is incredibly talented and has one of the more expressive faces in cinematic history.

I started this project thinking I was going to learn more about Mifune. What I have learned so far is that he is a sponge, like the rest of us, taking in all that Shimura has to offer. The whole first act is Mifune’s, in essence. We don’t even see the Lawyer until the beginning of the second act. Still, Shimura manages to steal the show.

Some of what we see feels a tad indulgent. Seeing someone stumble through scene after scene caught between indulgent, embarrassed and saddened can seem repetitive. Still, there is no one I recall seeing that can carry so much depth within his face as Shimura. His work is always magical.

Scandal is as commercial as anything I have seen Kurosawa direct. His actors generally bounce between hapless (Katsuragi, Yamaguchi and Shimura), determined (Mifune) or gleefully sinister (anyone at the publishing corporation). There are the respectable old people represented by the judges and the defense lawyer (Professor, no less).

This is good Kurosawa, brought up by a great Shimura and steadied by Mifune. The combination is one of the great triumvirates that I have witnessed. But I am a child in this great big world and still have much to discover. Fortunately, it looks like I still have some time.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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