This weekend, I finally got to watch The Bad Sleep Well, Akira Kurosawa’s 1960 dramatic thriller which was the first film to be produced by his own production company. While it’s his samurai films which I love the most, this one now ranks alongside 1963’s High and Low as one of his contemporary-set films that I would be happy to watch repeatedly.
Kurosawa’s signature wide shots and deep focus cinematography is less evident in this film, given most of the scenes take place indoors and have medium shots in close confines. Also less evident is movement – of people, elements of nature and the camera – so much a part of his most well-known films like Yojimbo and Seven Samurai.
What really comes through in scene after scene of The Bad Sleep Well is his skill at composition and lighting – a lot of it developed during his early years when he studied at the Doshisha School of Western Painting.
When it comes to composition, Kurosawa perhaps has no equal. He never wastes any of the available space on the screen…it’s always filled up with characters arranged geometrically – in triangles, in circles, all in a row, as a diagonal, and so on. He also uses the surroundings like houses, doors, windows, etc. to balance the on-screen composition.
I have captured below a selection of frames from the movie which illustrate this approach, irrespective of whether there are four, three or two people on screen, and one example of how he has created a dynamic, yet balanced composition with just one person. There are a couple of examples of chilling noir lighting as well. Enjoy!
And here’s a short video that explains this approach of ‘geometric composition’ from the perspective of a particular scene in the movie; created by Tony Zhou who used to run the much-loved YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting during 2014-16. Watch the analysis and better yet, watch the movie!