Sunday, July 23, 2006

Scandal (1950)

Scandal (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
Japanese Title: Shubun

In 1950, Akira Kurosawa, disgruntled and disappointed at the irresponsibility of the press which is slowly being Westernized, released Scandal. Several years after Japan was occupied by the Americans, Japanese society has been changing rapidly, including an infusion of a American-influenced commercialization of exposed private lives, notwithstanding whether such tales are true or not. Tabloids champion sensationalizing personalities, exchanging privcy for rabid and lucrative interest on gossip. Kurosawa's Scandal is the auteur's reaction to such burgeoning Japanese phenomenon. Sadly, five and a half decades after the film was released to the public, humanity still takes pleasure in revealing private lives and escapades, whether the stories are fictional or true. A billion dollar industry thrives in releasing such news to the public. Simple gossiping has evolved into a desperate weapon for the weak: personalities going on the air, or using respectable newspapers to air their petty quarrels by unleashing to the scandal-hungry public hurtful lies. It has turned into a blackmailing tool and one is urged to do everything to protect one's reputation.

Akira Kurosawa's Scandal outwardly concerns itself with the legal battle between Amour, a Japanese tabloid company, and painter Ichiro Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) and singer Miyaki Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi). The latter couple having innocently met in a mountain resort town has been caught together in a room by two enterprising photographers. The photograph is later submitted to the tabloid company, and a story is written alleging that the two are lovers. Naturally, the story was a blast and it made tons of money for the company, and gave Ichiro and Miyaki bad publicity. Ichiro threatened to sue, while Miyaki, who is afraid of further ruining her reputation, is reluctant.

The bigger concern of the film however revolves around Ichiro's hired lawyer Hiruta (Takashi Shimura). Hiruta is introduced in the film at first, as comic relief. His poverty is humorous; his fumbling ways hilarious. From comic relief, the lawyer shapes as the film's central character: a tragic figure who is in the middle of a battle between good and evil. The lawyer is shown as inherently suffering from the temptations of rising above his impoverished state, but at what cost? He has a daughter who is suffering from tuberculosis, and an unkempt office that is a clear result of his incapacities. His poverty and his weakness leads him to become a double agent, accepting a huge bribe from Amour to deflect Ichiro's claims against the tabloid company. It is obvious that Kurosawa's heart goes out to this morally embattled character, and quite admirably, his tale worked wonders for this socially relevant film, doubly layering the film with further issues that are grounded on the frailties of humanity rather than mere social awareness.

Scandal is pretty much a film that is rich in emotions while raising a statement on the ills of society. Kurosawa details his activism against the degeneration of Japanese society by providing a tale that tickles the heartstrings rather than focusing on the technicalities of courtroom practice. Actually, the courtroom scenes are filmed in a way that it pushes away from procedure, making use of such as breaks for humor or plot movement. Hiruta eventually wins his case, not through skills and know-how, but by a relevant turn-around. With a heartfelt speech that releases tension from his much-troubled soul, Hiruta reclaims his humanity. While Scandal is point-blank a hardhitting examination of society's petty fetish with what is scandalous and what is discovered with other people's private lives, the film is much more a humanistic tale of redemption rather than a socially conscious melodrama.

This post is my contribution to Filmsquish: Akira Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon.

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