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Film / The Idiot (1951)

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The Idiot is a 1951 film from Japan directed by Akira Kurosawa.

It is an adaptation of The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Kameda is a soldier who was imprisoned by the Americans based on a case of mistaken identity. He narrowly escaped execution before his true identity was established, but has been left as an "idiot", which really means he has epilepsy, along with a permanent case of nerves ("epileptic dementia").

On the way home, he meets Akama (Toshiro Mifune, in a Playing Against Type role as a deranged psychopath), who has just inherited a large fortune on the death of his father. The over-chatty Akama confides that he is going to use his money to marry Taeko, the sexiest girl in town (Setsuko Hara, in a Playing Against Type role for an actress better known for Yamato Nadeshiko parts).

Taeko, as it happens, is the longtime mistress of a wealthy businessman named Tohata. Tohata has tired of her and is looking to unload her on a poor clerk, Kayama, with a ¥600,000 bribe to sweeten the deal. However, Kayama is in love with Anako, daughter of one Mr. Ono—who happens to be Kameda's only living relative, and the person he's coming to stay with.

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Kurosawa's cut of this film was 266 minutes long; the studio cut 100 minutes from the movie. Forty years later Kurosawa tried to find the cut footage but failed.


Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Kayama's father, who comes staggering drunk into a family dinner, and then starts moaning about how he was dishonorably discharged from the Army and has nothing to show for his life.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Kameda is introduced by him screaming in the hold of a ship and jumping up from a Catapult Nightmare, waking all his fellow passengers.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The butcher's knife that Akama keeps around the house. He uses it to murder Taeko.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Mrs. Ono notes how Anako is glaring at her and says "Isn't her simmering rage becoming?" Kameda totally misses the meaning of this, and says, admiringly, "Yes, quite."
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  • Convulsive Seizures: Kameda has them. We only see one, after a stresful day for Kameda that ends with a psycho Akama threatening him with a knife.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Akama becomes violently unhinged at the prospect of Taeko being with anyone else.
  • Death Glare: Taeko and Kayama's sister shoot bloodcurdling stares at each other when they first meet. Kayama's sister is very pissed at the prospect of her brother marrying someone else's mistress.
  • Downer Ending: Taeko is murdered. Kameda has another breakdown at this, and winds up going back to the asylum.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The opening shot which goes through the porthole of a ship, down a stairway, and through the sleeping passengers in the hold, before a cut to Kameda as he screams himself awake.
  • Fainting: Taeko faints melodramatically after her demand for Kameda to choose her or Anako ends in him choosing Taeko, only for him to move to pursue Anako after she flees the house in tears.
  • If I Can't Have You...: Obviously why Akama killed Taeko, after she says she will go away with Kameda.
  • I Love the Dead: Strongly implied with Akama after he murders Taeko.
    "She has a beautiful body. Take a look in the morning. I spent all day by her side. I've never seen such a woman. But I'm worried she may start to smell."
  • Insecure Love Interest: Taeko develops real feelings for Kameda, but thinks that she, a "ruined woman" who's been made hard by life, will be bad for sweet, innocent Kameda.
  • Instant Illness: One walk in a blizzard is enough to give Anako a "raging fever".
  • I Was Never Here: "Remember, you never saw me here,", says Akama while leading Kameda to the lair where he has taken the dead body of Taeko.
  • Laughing Mad: In the end, having finally gone completely insane and murdered Taeko, Akama is giggling as he says "She's all our now" to Kameda.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Taeko the "fallen woman" and Anako both want Kameda to marry them. Unstable, violently possessive Akama wants Taeko for his. Then there's Kayama who is getting tempted by a large dowry to marry Taeko, but loves Anako.
  • Mistaken for Servant: Taeko mistakes Kameda for the Ono family servant when she first meets him.
  • The Mistress: Taeko has been the kept woman of Tohata. He's looking to marry her off.
  • Money to Burn: Akama has gathered together a million yen in order to basically buy Taeko. Taeko, who is humiliated by the whole affair and contemptuous of Kayama for taking a bribe to marry her and taking a bribe to not marry her, chucks the money in the fireplace and tells Kayama he can have anything he can grab. Kayama lets the money burn.
  • Roadside Wave: A wave of snow, which splatters Kameda when a truck passes. Played for drama, as this, combined with the other petty annoyances of urban life—the noise of traffic, the jingling of bells on horses—push Kameda to the verge of a seizure.
  • Setting Update: Dostoevsky's novel updated from Imperial Russia to post-war Japan.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Kameda, left damaged by the war and damaged worse by his imprisonment.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Taeko adopts a hard, cold shell to hide the pain and hurt she's suffered from being a kept woman (from the age of fourteen, no less), from suffering the contempt of her community, and from basically being auctioned to Akama.
  • Staggered Zoom: Three cuts from a shot of Akama looking through the porthole in a door to a tight closeup of his eyes. It's a quite chilling effect as Akama is glaring crazily after saying that Kameda can have Taeko.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: "You're not that kind of person. That's not who you are," says Kameda to Taeko after a degrading scene when Akama barges into the Kameda home and offers to pay Kameda a million yen for Taeko.
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