Ichiro Aoye (Mifune) is an artist who paints both models and still lifes. While painting a mountain by the side of a country road one day, he runs across a lovely and famous young singer, Miyako Saijo, who is hoofing it after missing her bus. They are both headed for the same town so he offers her a lift. Ichiro and Miyako get separate rooms in a hotel and their relationship is entirely platonic, but when he enters her room for a chat they are photographed by paparazzi from the gossip magazine Amour. The gossip rag then runs a story claiming that Miyako had an affair.
An outraged Ichiro sues for slander. He makes the rash decision to hire as his lawyer one Hiruta, an obviously third rate attorney whose "office" is a wooden shack on a rooftop, mainly because he sympathizes with Hiruta's tubercular, terminally ill daughter Masako. This decision becomes even more ill-advised when Hiruta, desperate for money to help his daughter, takes a bribe from Amour's sleazy publisher to tank the case.
Second pairing of Kurosawa and Mifune, after Stray Dog. Takashi Shimura, who plays the weak, pathetic Hiruta, made a very different impression a few years later as badass samurai Kambei in Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai.
Not to be confused with 1989 film Scandal, which is about the Profumo Affair, a Real Life 1963 sex scandal in Britain.
- The Ace: Amour gets a much more competent attorney who runs rings around Hiruta in court. The look of disgust on his face when he finds out about the publisher's bribery scheme is priceless.
- Amoral Attorney: Hiruta, as shown by his HeelFace Revolving Door.
- Author Tract: Kurosawa had a very low opinion of the scandal-obsessed, gossipy yellow journalism that rose up in post-war Japan.
- Black and White Morality: The folks at Amour are capital-E Evil. They lie, and they take pleasure in destroying reputations. Ichiro for his part is righteously angry while Miyako is pure and innocent.
- Character Tics: Ichiro has a tendency to scratch his head and ruffle his hair.
- Chiaroscuro: Used for the first shot of the staff of Amour, when they are developing the picture of Ichiro and Miyako, to establish them as shadowy and evil.
- Decoy Protagonist: Ichiro becomes less important in the latter portion of the film, as the story focuses on sadsack Hiruta.
- Double Standard: "I hate women who act innocent but turn out to be whores," says a writer for Amour, and later they say "The story concerned Saijo," reflecting the idea that only women are to be shamed for having sex.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Hiruta starts drinking heavily after taking bribes from Amour.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: Hiruta gets himself hired as Ichiro's lawyer. Then he betrays Ichiro by taking a bribe from Amour. Then he publicly confesses to the bribery scheme in court, winning the case for Ichiro.
- Hollywood Law: Hard to believe that Hiruta's confession would result in anything other than a mistrial.
- Hypocrite: The folks at Amour, who seek to shame Miyako for allegedly having sex, have pinups plastered all over their office.
- Ill Girl: Gentle, sweet, bedridden, dying Masako.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: There's Masako Hiruta, who is so innocent that nothing can corrupt her. And then there's Ichiro Aoye, who is not corrupted by the scandal or even by hiring an Amoral Attorney.
- Mood Whiplash: A plastered Hiruta gives a tearful speech to Masako about the nature of evil and what underhanded cheats the people at Amour are. And then it becomes funny when he collapses onto Masako and starts snoring gently.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Hiruta spends most of the third act of the movie expressing this trope, as he's clearly ashamed of betraying Ichiro.
- No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-Universe, as the publisher of Amour says exactly this when expressing confidence about the slander trial.
- Smug Snake: The publisher for Amour. Notice his insufferable grin when testifying in court.
- Spinning Paper: Newspaper and magazine headlines popping up onscreen tell the story of the spreading scandal, and then of the slander trial.
- Strawman News Media: Amour prints scurrilous gossip without giving a crap whether or not it's true. They also aren't above bribery in court proceedings.
- Title Drop: "It's not our first scandal," says the publisher of Amour.
- Translated Cover Version: Miyako sings a beautiful "Silent Night" with Japanese lyrics. Later, at a sad New Year's party, the crowd sings "Auld Lang Syne" in Japanese.