Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kurosawa Centennial: Scandal

It could be considered Akira Kurosawa’s Christmas movie—sort of. Partly set during the Christmas season, there are Christmas trees, caroling, and plenty of old fashioned tear-jerking in Scandal (trailer here), an early postwar melodrama screening during Film Forum’s twenty-eight film retrospective of the Kurosawa centennial (1910-2010).

Ichirô Aoye is a talented painter of some renown. Miyako Saijo is a beautiful, camera-shy singer much in demand by the press. They would make a perfect couple, but they are not together. So when scandal sheet paparazzi capture them in an innocent but suggestive looking situation, the outraged Aoye files suit. Unfortunately, he hires Hiruta, a compulsive gambling lush of an attorney to represent him. Though hardly blind to his counsel’s faults, Aoye retains him out of sympathy for his angelic bed-ridden daughter, Masako. Needless to say, this is a bad legal strategy.

Obviously, there is something brewing between the not-lovers, but Kurosawa is more interested in Hiruta’s loathing self-contempt. As Masako’s growing suspicions of her father’s corruption weaken her condition, Scandal definitely heads into hanky territory. Like a true melodrama, it all heads towards an emotional courtroom showdown.

While Aoye probably was not the character Toshirō Mifune was born to play, he at least exudes a certain square-jawed likability. Likewise, singer-actress Shirley Yamaguchi (born Yoshiko Yamaguchi in China to Japanese parents before eventually becoming a member of Japan’s Parliament) is appropriately glamorous and her voice is indeed quite lovely in the underwritten role of Saijo. However, most of the heavy-lifting acting falls to Takashi Shimura as the sharply-drawn Hiruta. Though he conveys a compelling sense of pathos, the cringe-inducing self-hatred becomes somewhat repetitive after a while.

Yes, Scandal gets more than a little corny, but that sentimentality gives it an old-school Hollywood sweetness that is refreshing in a way. Though not particularly remarkable, it is an interesting commentary on Japan’s emerging tabloid journalism. Ultimately, Scandal’s somewhat quirky charm adds another dimension to the Film Forum’s impressive Kurosawa survey. It screens this coming Sunday (1/24).