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Scandal 
Written by: on March 19th, 2006

Release Date: Japan, 1950
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune,Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Noriko Sengoku

DVD released: November 14th 2005
Approximate running time: 105 mins
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Rating: PG
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Eureka DVD
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99

A young singer and a painter share a cup of tea after meeting whilst on separate rural holidays. Paparazzi following the singer take a photograph of the two and put scandalous story about a love affair into their magazine. When the singer and the painter find out, they engage a rather eccentric lawyer with an ailing daughter to act for them in a lawsuit. The magazine responds by trying to bribe the lawyer to throw the trial.

Scandal is a very atypical Kurosawa movie. Its central concern is the emergence of the paparazzi press and their invasion into the lives of public figures. Supposedly motivated by press interest in Kurosawa’s dealings with an actress, Scandal is a bit of a departure from traditional costume dramas like Rashomon or even the social pieces of Stray Dog or Drunken Angel. That Kurosawa would put his humanism to one side and make such a personal and bourgeois film is intriguing.

Scandal casts Mifune as a painter, which is how Kurosawa started out, and takes his normal physical presence and pits him against the sleazy world of cheap journalism. However the picture departs from this theme and becomes far more interested in the story of Takashi Shimura as the drunken lawyer whom Mifune engages out of pity. The middle section of the film is given over to Shimura’s final descent into corruption and the torture this brings to his dying daughter. These scenes bring unusual prominence for women in a Kurosawa film with the suffering daughter Sumie dying in poverty and needing things to look at – she keeps herself busy despite being bed-ridden by staring at things and imagining, Sumie is a kind of angel.

Shimura’s drunkenness, his gambling and his gullibility are portrayed brilliantly and the focus of the film switches to a much more typical Kurosawa topic of the agony of the poor and the inevitability of the strong to win over the weak. As Alex Cox notes in the introduction to the film on this disc, this part of Scandal is a bit of a dry run for Shimura’s performance in Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

Scandal though is rampantly uneven, full of compassion yet tortuous in it’s presentation of the films villains. The script requires behaviour from Shimura that is unchallenged despite it’s mendacity and Shimura’s eventual confession is awfully Hollywood. Scandal is most successful in it’s implied criticism of the Americanization of Japan – the motorbikes in the slum, the magazines that peddle scandal and ruin for the poor to feel better, and the empty cult of celebrity.

Scandal is a minor Kurosawa but worth catching for great work from Shimura.

The DVD:

Eureka has released Scandal as part of their excellent Masters of Cinema series. This series has ensured that great films like Humanity and Paper Balloons, Metropolis and Vengeance is Mine have had good DVD releases and Scandal is similarly deserving. The previous Hong Kong release has synchronization problems and a desperate print and this disc does improve on that. The print is very battered but has been transferred well.

The audio is crackly throughout and a little subdued but perfectly serviceable. The English subtitles are excellent.

The extras include the trailer and an introduction from Alex Cox on the movie. Cox is awfully hard on Kurosawa seeing him as a political chameleon and changeable in his convictions, he also hints that Scandal was made to protect Kurosawa from the release of other personal secrets. I usually like Cox’s pieces on films but here he forgets himself and should consider whether his one half-decent movie entitles him to be so critical of the convictions of one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived.

Cox’s irreverence to one side, this is a fine release which is the best available release of this Kurosawa film. For more information of the Masters of Cinema series check here:

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