Foreign Film February: Scandal (1950)


Akira Kurosawa is one of my favorite film directors of all time. I’ve not seen all of his films, in fact, I’ve only seen about half of them (17 of 32 if you are counting) but out of all I’ve seen, there hasn’t been a bad one. All of them have been good, and many have been truly great. Scandal is my least favorite of the films that I’ve seen. It isn’t a bad film by any means, but when compared to his masterpieces it just doesn’t hold up.

Toshiro Mifune plays Ichirō Aoye an artist who, as the film begins is out in the countryside painting some mountains. A woman, Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi), comes walking up the path carrying her luggage. She says she missed her bus and is staying at a nearby hotel. Ichirō says he is staying at the same hotel and he’ll give her a lift. They climb on his motorcycle and zoom away. Later that day, after they have both showered, he visits her in her room. They are both wearing robes and they hang their towels over her balcony rail. They have a friendly chat and at one point she draws close to him as he points out a nice walking trail she might take. It is at that moment a tabloid newspaper photographer snatches a picture.

The photo is sold to a tabloid rag which puts the photo on the front page and insinuates a secret romance between the two characters. Miyako is a famous singer and the story becomes quite a scandal. While Ichirō and Miyako discuss what to do they meet Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) a shambling, down-on-his-luck lawyer who says he’d like to represent them in a lawsuit against the magazine. Miyako declines but Ichirō is taken in by the man’s earnestness. When he meets Hiruta’s daughter, who is bedridden with TB but retains a cheerful attitude, he agrees to let Hiruta represent him.

Hirutu is a good man, but drowning in debt and is unable to afford good care for his daughter. When a lawyer for the magazine offers him a bribe to throw the case, he reluctantly agrees. The story unfolds in a way that aligns pretty directly with Kurosawa’s usual gentle humanism.

It is a decent story and it is told well. But compared to Kurosawa’s other works it falls short. There is nothing particularly surprising or interesting about how it unfolds, and the direction, while adequate, isn’t particularly special. I kept thinking about High and Low, Kurosawa’s fantastic crime drama from 1963. Much of that story takes place inside the house of the main character. It centers on one room. Kurusawa’s placement of the camera in that film, and the way it moves make that room feel claustrophobic or expansive depending on the mood he’s trying to create. It is a masterclass in direction. I kept hoping for something similar in Scandal, especially in the courtroom scenes, but the setups are all basic. The sort of placement you’d find in any courtroom drama airing on broadcast television. Again, it isn’t bad, it just doesn’t feel like a Kurosawa film.

In the end, it is still worth watching, especially if you are a fan, but this is definitely a lesser Kurosawa.