Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Takashi Koide
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima
Cast: Toshirō Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Shirley Yamaguchi, Yôko Katsuragi, Noriko Sengoku, Eitarô Ozawa, Ichirô Shimizu, Fumiko Okamura, Masao Shimizu, Shinichi Himori, Tanie Kitabayashi and Sugisaku Aoyama
A scandal is created when a misleading photo of a famous artist and singer gets published by a tabloid magazine. The two sue the magazine in the ensuing aftermath.
The Scandal is probably one of Kurosawa’s most overlooked films. Is it an overlooked ”lost gem”? Not really, it simply lacks the moral fiber of Kurosawa’s stronger works. It isn’t as strong in themes or delivers some kind of nuanced moral message. It’s clear from the onset that those mischievous paparazzi are in the wrong, and our heroes are the wronged party. The villains are rather a simple minded bunch. It feels like some kind of missed opportunity to do something more with the subject matter. Nonetheless, The Scandal is still a competent film.
Toshiro Mifune’s Aoye is an artist who is touch with the subliminal, yet he is never short of worldly wisdom. Like nearly all Mifune characters, Ayoe enjoys his natural calm and cool charisma. Few people might find it hard to believe someone like Mifune is so accustomed to playing stern and aggressive characters could play an artist. But, people should remember never to doubt the range of Mifune’s acting abilities.
Miyako Saijo isn’t in the movie as much as you would suspect considering how important her role is in the story. But, she is there enough to establish her as a beautiful and noble singer in distress.
Hiruta is probably the next important character in the film. It can be even argued that he becomes the main character more than Aoye towards the end. Hirota is a puzzling character for me. His motivations are never clear. Hirota is a man that’s confused if he is a crooked man or a good man. Hiruta’s dying daughter becomes the righteous indignation to cause him to rethink himself. Hiruta falls into self-pity so many times that it becomes annoying to watch, it happens even during the trial. The reason behind Hiruta’s self-pity isn’t the strongest. Hiruta’s flaws as a whole require more focus. Or Hiruta’s flaws are little too simple for my liking. There is still much genuine sentimentality to his character that does manage to touch you at certain points. Hiruta is probably the weakest element of The Scandal’s story. I think I can understand the importance of his character. Even, lawyers are the so called defenders of justice are capable of hiding the truth for personal gain. Hirata’s character arc does elevate the ending to something more profound.
The narrative of The Scandal jumps around viewpoint to viewpoint. It’s not really the narrative style that will happen in Rashomon later. But just how the press is going and the two affected parties is going to approach the entire scandal. These moments are great to developing the worldview of each side. For Ayoe, it’s a matter of principle while for paparazzi it’s a simple matter of personal gain. The press here are probably too much like caricatures, but you still get a good glimpse of the inner workings of the press. Seeing the whole scandal escalate really is captivating and makes the worries of the characters all the more ”real”.
It never actually settles itself until Hirota takes most of the narrative focus. Prior to Hirota taking the helm, the narrative is actually at its most interesting. It’s not exactly a slow placed, but a few scenes in the second half go on longer than needed like the scene at the bar celebrating the New Year. The back-end of the film goes down the more melodramatic route to the point it distracts from the social commentary that builds up. Though, the social commentary comes ahead once again in the final trial. But, the final trial is more of a collision of Hiruta’s personal dilemma and the social commentary at hand. The melodrama is rather the mild kind with Hiruta’s dying daughter serving as the sacrificial lamb to keep everyone on the straight path. The segments with Hiruta’s daughter Masako is probably too clichéd, but it adds an emotional pull towards Hiruta’s actions.
The final trial isn’t as thrilling as it needs to be, but it isn’t short of emotional high notes. A more pro-active Aoye could have made the whole thing better. If viewed as a shining moment of Hiruta’s redemption, it’s quite stellar.
A more nuanced perspective on the press could have elevated the social commentary and the film as a whole. But, the rather one-sided story makes the whole ordeal simplistic to match the quality of Kurosawa’s other works. It’s tone and story feels a bit uneven. The Scandal is still an ambitious film with a touching story.