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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hakuchi (aka The Idiot) (1951)

A prisoner of war (Masayuki Mori) returns home to Okinawa after nearly being executed. But the trauma of the experience has damaged not only his body (he has epileptic seizures) but his brain. Because of this condition, he is considered somewhat feeble but his one redeeming feature is his exquisite purity of soul. Based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel, Akira Kurosawa transposes Dostoyevsky's 19th century Russia into post WWII Japan. It's an ambitious film and if it's not as well known or admired as his other films, it still ranks as one of his best. Which is not to say the film is flawless though most of the problems seem to be related to its somewhat fragmented nature. Though the movie pushes the three hour mark, Kurosawa's original cut was over four hours before the studio (Shochiku) removed over an hour from the film. Playing genuine goodness of heart is difficult to do without slipping into saccharine cliches but Mori does a beautiful job of it, even in his stillness, with nary a false note. Kurosawa elicits excellent support from the other actors: Setsuko Hara's doomed femme fatale, Toshiro Mifune as her obsessed lover and Yoshiko Kuga as the conflicted object of affection. A nicely rendered score by Fumio Hayasaka cinches it.

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