SCANDAL (Akira Kurosawa, 1950, Japan)
A morally bankrupt attorney sells himself to the highest bidder and must face the consequences without appeal. Akira Kurosawa condemns the media with this scathing indictment of yellow journalism; a cautionary tale of cancerous reporting that destroys reputations with its malignancy.
Ichiro and Miyako embark upon an innocent rendezvous that is photographed by paparazzi, alleging a fictional tryst. Ichiro is a well-known painter whose rebellious nature is represented by his growling motorcycle, and Miyako is a waifish pop star. The problems with the film are evident in its first reel as Ichiro is surrounded by a group of farmers while painting his masterpiece…atop a desolate mountain. Suddenly Miyako stumbles upon the scene, well off the road, and says she has missed her bus. This questionable setup is absurd: the uncultured farmers have nothing better to do than discuss painting, and a famous singer is wandering an isolated country road looking for a ride? Is there such a thing as a celebrity painter whose life would matter to the tabloids? Kurosawa was a fine artist and it’s obvious that Ichiro echoes the director’s own sentiments concerning the need to reinterpret reality through the human lens of abstract perception. Their careers are irrelevant since it adds nothing to the story: they could be athletes or politicians. Also, the characterizations are trite and obvious: both protagonists are painted with broad brush-strokes, undeniably good and generous and innocent of the alleged moral crime. The journalists are likewise one-dimensional, wickedness and greed their only traits. The characters aren’t complex human beings, they simply are. The film only becomes interesting halfway through when the couple hire Hiruta, a sloppy and desperate lawyer who avers his conspiratorial anger. The film’s structure is bi-polar and the first half seems only a setup to focus upon Hiruta’s ethical dilemma.
Hiruta is the convoluted persona, a man who has sacrificed himself for the almighty dollar, and a wretched lawyer who is not above stealing from his own clients. But his soul is not entirely lost: he has a sick daughter that he loves dearly and it’s revealed that most of his money is spent in caring for her. The daughter is dying of tuberculosis, bedridden for the past five years, and this is the reason that Ichiro finally decides to hire Hiruta: a man who cares for his sick child can’t be all bad. This axiom will be put to the test.
Though the film is generally a failure because of its prosaic judgments, Kurosawa’s visual language is profound. In one sublime scene, Ichiro visits Hiruta’s disheveled office that is crumbling and dirty, the ashtrays full and pictures hanging askew. Without language, Kurosawa equates the sordid environment with the spiritual turmoil that rages within Hiruta: his interior reality has tainted his exterior and Kurosawa tricks the audience into a quick assumption. Ichiro’s expression is one of dissatisfaction until he sees a photograph of the sickly child, and it’s this splinter of decency that empowers him to hire the bumbling attorney. Also, the final courtroom scenes are ambitious and tense, not in revealing the verdict but in witnessing Hiruta’s internal struggle.
Finally, the attorney must lose everything: his family, his money, the last remnants of dignity, and his job…to discover that his child’s faith wasn’t misplaced. In a sweltering courtroom before a higher authority Hiruta finds himself at last. Final Grade: (C)