I’m sure living in Japan during the transitional periods from pre-WWII to post-WWII would have quite an effect on anyone, especially someone choosing to express themselves in an artistic fashion. The introduction of capitalism, the degradation of traditional Japanese society by the inclusion of Western practices and the moral decline that followed contained enough material for cinematic expression for decades. Akira Kurosawa spent his post war years making a series of films which explored the change that Japanese society was undergoing, although the lasting effect of that period seemed to permeate every film until his death. Many of his lead characters are faced with a moral dilemma that seems to eat them from the inside out, whether it’s Kingo Gondo in "High and Low", Dr. Harada in "I Life in Fear" or Taketori Washizu in "Throne of Blood".
“Scandal”, made in 1950, is no different. Ichiro Aoe, played by Toshiro Mifune, is an artist who paints what he see’s. During an excursion to the country, he accidentally meets Miyako Saijo, a popular young singer. He gives her a ride on his motorcycle to the hotel they are both staying at, and the two engage in conversation over the course of the night. A group of paparazzi, keen on getting a photo of Miyako, spot her with Ichiro on their balcony, both fresh from having their nightly baths. The two immediately jump to conclusions, assuming they’re having an affair, and the tabloid magazine they work for, Amour, quickly runs a story detailing their secret tryst. While Miyako is fine to sit back and let the tabloids do their sleazy work, Ichiro feels he can’t sit idly by, and demands the magazine run a retraction. When they refuse, he threatens to sue. He hires the help of the second rate alcoholic lawyer Hirute, played by Takashi Shimura, who struggles to support his daughter, an angelic figure who suffers from tuberculosis. Soon, a trial is underway, but when the tabloid magazine offers Hirute a large sum of money to loose the trial, he faces an internal struggle. Take the money, so that he can support his daughter, or do the right thing and win the case for Ichiro and Miyako.
“Scandal” is not Kurosawa’s best film. At times it lays the melodrama on thick. Some of the characters, most notably the tabloid magazine employee’s, are very one dimensional. And while cinematically it’s well done, its not nearly as dynamic or as technically outstanding as some of his other films at the time. This isn’t to say it’s a bad film. Even a lacklustre Kurosawa film is still a film to celebrate. Takashi Shimura’s performance as the morally fractured Hirute is worth a viewing, even if it does get a bit tedious towards the end. It also seems to highlight the profound relationship Kurosawa had with Mifune, who embodies Kurosawa’s persona in the film. Kurosawa was also a painter, much like Ichiro, and like Ichiro was accused of having too much Western influence in his work, although as Ichiro he says, he ‘paints what he see’s’. Kurosawa was also caught up in a scandal of his own years early, when papers claimed he was having an affair with actress Hideko Takamine. Never one to shy away from a fight, this seems to be his strike back at the papers responsible, depicting the moral decay of Japanese journalism, as it became consumed with gossip and sensationalism. And like most Kurosawa films, he tends not to overplay it, although again, this is more melodramatic than most of films, but it still does retain relevance today, in our pop culture environment of internet gossip websites and paparazzi frenzy.