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Analysing the incredible geometry in Akira Kurosawa's 1960 film noir

Akira Kurosawa might be primarily known for his excellent period films and his samurai classics but he also proved that he was a true cinematic master by venturing into other genres. This is evident to anyone who is familiar with the brilliant film noir quartet located within the Japanese auteur’s illustrious filmography.

Kurosawa perfectly used the aesthetic frameworks of the film noir genre to explore the harsh socioeconomic realities of post-war Japan. His investigations within the genre inspired the filmmakers who emerged during the New Wave in Japanese cinema while also influencing the development of the genre in global cinema.

Out of the four film noir gems directed by Kurosawa, the one that gets the most critical attention is definitely his 1963 opus High and Low. However, Kurosawa’s 1960 film The Bad Sleep Well is also a fascinating exploration of Japanese society during the post-war period and it actually also highlights Kurosawa’s obsession with Shakespeare.

Starring Toshiro Mifune as a young man who embarks on a dark and deadly journey to climb the corporate ladder in order to find out more about his father’s death, The Bad Sleep Well launches a scathing indictment of moral and social corruption of post-war Japan. To make this work even more powerful, Kurosawa also utilises elements based on Hamlet.

Tony Zhou of Every Frame A Painting created a fantastic video exploring the fascinating spatial and visual geometry of The Bad Sleep Well. In addition to the video on The Bad Sleep Well, Zhou had also worked on a fantastic breakdown of Kurosawa’s unique composition of movement which dictates the economy of the action.

One particular scene in The Bad Sleep proves how much attention Kurosawa paid to the geometry of a scene, carefully dealing with shapes such as squares and triangles (formed by subjects within the frame as well as objects). The director also does not isolate the action and the reaction which is often done in Hollywood films.

The camera also contributes to the reconfiguration of these shapes as the dramatic tension builds up, creating a fantastic cinematic experience that is solely pushed forward by the momentum of the visual narrative instead of relying on the screenwriting. In order to experience the scene unfold in front of your own eyes, listen to Zhou’s breakdown of a perfect cinematic sequence.

Watch the video below.