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Film / The Bad Sleep Well

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That's Toshiro Mifune? Where's his beard?

The Bad Sleep Well is a 1960 film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune.

The film opens with the wedding of Yoshiko, daughter of Unexploited Land Development Corporation executive Iwabuchi, to Iwabuchi's secretary Nishi (Mifune). The wedding does not go smoothly, as Wada, one of Iwabuchi's subordinates, is arrested on charges of bribery as part of a kickback scheme in which the government awarded fraudulent bids to Land Development. A phalanx of reporters at the wedding fire questions at Wada, and provide exposition explaining that five years ago, a similar public corruption scandal with Land Development was brought to an abrupt end when Furuya, another low-level Land Development executive, flung himself to his death from the window of his office at corporate headquarters.

Someone else knows about Furuya: a cake sent to the wedding is in the shape of corporate headquarters with a flower in the window that Furuya jumped from. And the police are getting tips from a mole inside Land Development. It turns out the mole is none other than Nishi, Iwabuchi's dutiful secretary, who is Furuya's secret illegitimate son, and is bent on revenge.


The Bad Sleep Well is a loose adaptation of Hamlet—very loose, actually, being less faithful to the source than Kurosawa's other Shakespeare adaptations Throne of Blood and Ran. It was the first film made by Kurosawa's own production company, although it was still distributed by Toho. Viewers more familiar with Toshiro Mifune from his costume dramas with Kurosawa such as Throne of Blood and The Seven Samurai may be surprised to see him as a bespectacled businessman in a three-piece suit.



  • Anti-Hero: Nishi has good intentions, but is full of revenge.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Subverted. Nishi tries this on Wada to stop him from committing suicide, but Wada takes this to mean that he should kill himself immediately.
  • As You Know: Tons of this from the reporters in the opening scene, explaining the relationships between the characters.
    "Why cover the wedding for the daughter of Public Corporation's vice president?"
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Wada is presumed to have flung himself into a volcano. But he didn't, and Nishi takes him to his own funeral so that Wada can see his bosses gloating.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Nishi and Yoshiko, although their marriage is "cold" rather than "butting heads"
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Nishi's plan to take down the corrupt corporation.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Iwabuchi has Nishi killed. The incriminating evidence is seized and destroyed. Wada, a potential witness, is also killed. The investigation ends. The last lines in the movie are Iwabuchi, on the phone with his unseen boss, offering to resign and being told that it's not necessary, and that he can come back after a short vacation. See Shoot the Shaggy Dog below. Incidentally the Japanese Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru is more precisely "the worse you are the better you sleep", so it's definitely an Invoked Trope.
  • The Bard on Board: Hamlet. Well, very loosely, anyway. It's not really an adaptation of Hamlet, but it has certain plot elements from Hamlet, such as an Ophelia-Laertes pair in Yoshiko and her brother Tatsuo, a man seeking revenge for the death of his father (Nishi), and even a ghost, when Nishi sets up the supposedly dead Wada to freak out Shirai.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Nishi. So quiet, so polite, such a good secretary! But he's up to something.
    • Wada is the nicest of the three conspirators against Iwabuchi. But when he finds out that Shirai goaded him into trying to kill himself, Wada tries to assault him.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Not only is Nishi quiet, he has no dialogue for the first third of the film.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Tatsuo uses his wedding toast to flat-out tell Nishi that he'll kill him if he hurts Yoshiko. Tatsuo follows up that threat by shooting at Nishi and later disowning his father when Nishi's murder breaks Yoshiko.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Nishi and Yoshiko when the truth comes out.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Nishi, who is quiet but full of emotional turmoil, and Yoshiko, his sweet, mild mannered wife.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Shirai is floored by a mouthful of whiskey (although he was fooled into thinking it was poisoned).
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Nishi's family died in the war. At least, that's what the investigator turned up.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Everyone at Land Development—the underlings like Shirai and Wada, the higher-ups like Iwabuchi, and whoever the unseen boss is, all corrupt right up to ordering murders.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Nishi, to the deceased Furuya.
  • Downer Ending: Hoo boy. See Shoot the Shaggy Dog below.
  • Dramatic Drop: Shirai drops his glass when he sees the Furuya-inspired cake.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Miura steps in front of a truck to spare his superiors from incrimination.
    • Furuya was either talked into this, or simply thrown out the window.
  • Gaslighting: Nishi and Wada break Shirai with a Humiliation Conga ultimately leading to him seeing the "ghost" of Wada, who's funeral he had just been to that week.
  • The Ghost: Iwabuchi has a superior at Unexploited Land Development Corporation, one that he occasionally talks to by phone. The film ends with Iwabuchi assuring his superior that everything is taken care of and they're in the clear. The superior is never seen.
  • Gratuitous English: The film, set in modern day, has iterations of English words, like "wedding cake" (ウエディングケーキ), "taxi" (タクシー) and "ham-egg" (ハムエッグ)
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Nishi thinks its Iwabuchi but he's merely a cog in the corporation wheel reporting to an unseen and distant senior, who Nishi has no awareness and knowledge of.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Yoshiko goes into a catatonic state after finding out that not only did her father have her husband killed, it was her fault for revealing where Nishi was hiding.
    • When Yoshiko and Tatsuo go looking for Nishi, they arrive at the hideout and find Itakura crying in the abandoned corridor over Nishi's death.
  • Humiliation Conga: It is not a good week to be Shirai.
  • The Ingenue: Yoshiko Iwabuchi, who is pure, innocent and gentle.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Nishi reacts without thinking when Tatsuo addresses him as Itakura, thereby confirming his true identity.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Wada is about to jump into a volcano when Nishi talks him out of it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nishi is rough, manipulative and vengeful, but deep down he cares about those closest to him, most of all his wife. Itakura (the real Nishi), is a bit meaner, but he and Nishi are fond friends, and Itakura is crushed to lose him.
  • Just Following Orders: A panicked Shirai tells Nishi that he was just following Iwabuchi's orders when he strong-armed Furuya into committing suicide.
  • Lohengrin and Mendelssohn: Played at Japanese weddings, it seems.
  • Karma Houdini: Heavily Downplayed. Iwabuchi does not get anything close to justice... but his relationship with his daughter and son is shattered for good, and he really loved them, and the phone call where his seniors tell him to "sleep well" is heavily ironic since we see him stressed and sweating at the end.
  • Nervous Wreck: Shirai is skittish and constantly nervous about everything, even before he thinks he's being haunted by the ghost of Wada.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Wada brings Yoshiko to the hideout in the hope that the situation could be solved without Iwabuchi being killed. However, this leads her father to grow suspicious of Yoshiko, and to have both Wada and Nishi killed.
  • Nice Mean And Inbetween: The trio involved in the plan; Wada (nice), the mild-mannered Punch-Clock Villain who acts as a conscience for Nishi; Itakura (mean), the most brutally pragmatic; and Nishi (the real Itakura, in-between), who is bent on revenge but treats Iwabuchi's former employees better than he feels he should and has feelings for Yoshiko.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Nishi reconciles with Yoshiko and places his trust in her. This causes her to be tricked into having Nishi killed. Wada was the one who brought her, out of good intentions, to the hideout, and he is killed, too.
  • Posthumous Character: Furuya, whose death 5 years before the story sets the plot in motion.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • Played straight: Wada. He proposed the kickback scheme and was one of the men who encouraged Nishi's father Furuya to commit suicide. Everything we see of him, though, suggests that Wada is otherwise a genuinely decent, even sentimental man who believes in The Power of Love.
    • Subverted: Iwabuchi. Both his son and daughter agree that he's a very loving father. But at the end of the film, given the choice between his children and Public Corporation, Iwabuchi chooses the business without a second thought.
  • Revenge Romance: Nishi marries Yoshiko as part of his plan, only to fall in love with her.
  • Sanity Slippage: Shirai completely snaps and is sent to an asylum.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Yoshiko, Nishi's wife, who has very little character.
  • Setting Update: Hamlet in modern-day Japan (sort of, see The Bard on Board above).
  • Sexless Marriage: Yoshiko and Nishi, mainly because Nishi feels guilty about using her.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog:
    • Nishi spends the entire movie building up The Plan to get his ultimate revenge on the corporate grifters who drove his father to suicide, but he ends up falling in love with Yoshiko, leading Iwabuchi to drug his own daughter and arrange for Nishi to be killed. You don't see him die—Yoshiko and Tatsuo return to his hideout, only to be told by his badly beaten best friend that Nishi was drugged and then sent on the road, where he was killed by a train. Land Development Corporation and Iwabuchi get away with everything.
    • Furuya got in on the corruption to make some money, but when he's pressured into killing himself he gives all that money to his estranged son, who uses it to destroy the other conspirators. So his story is also a shaggy dog.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: The cunning Nishi wears glasses.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Yoshiko, a loose counterpart of Ophelia, although she does have a Heroic BSoD after her husband's death.
  • Spinning Paper: Newspaper headlines explain what's going on in the investigation of Land Development.
  • Title Drop: Only in Japanese. The film's name in Japan is Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru, and Nishi says it almost verbatim when convincing Yoshiko to let him destroy her father. In Japanese that title means "the worse you are, the better you sleep".
  • Unperson: In a sense. The real Nishi swapped names with Mifune's character (who's actually named Itakura), but since everyone knows Mifune as Nishi and he died in the car that the real Nishi owned, the real Nishi now has to live out his life as Itakura, and can't testify in court because he doesn't exist as far as the legal system goes.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Nishi's revenge plot is scuppered by his father's well-meaning widow, who innocently reveals his real identity to one of the men Nishi wants to destroy.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Unfortunately, Nishi falls for Yoshiko, and she knows it. This trope hangs in the background of their reunion scene, but they come through for each other in the end.
  • You Just Told Me: How Nishi and Itakura get Moriyama to reveal that he alone knows the whereabouts of a lot of missing cash.