The Idiot (Akira Kurosawa / Japan, 1951):

Turns out the real idiot, as the old joke has it, was love. The Quiet Duel evokes the war as a crisis of syphilitic contagion, Akira Kurosawa’s truncated invocation of Dostoevsky addresses the aftermath as a case of epileptic trauma. Myshkin is a former soldier (Masayuki Mori) out of the prisoner camp and onto a crowded steamer, a scream snaps him out of a recurring nightmare and seizes the attention of Rogozhin the moneyed roughneck (Toshiro Mifune). Spared from the firing squad and now "like a newborn lamb" in a "world full of wolves," the baka floats through Hokkaido in winter as a magnetic axis for metaphysical ruptures. At a sumptuous birthday party, he sidles up to black-caped Nastassya (Setsuko Hara) and compares her eyes to those of a doomed captive (cf. Heflin’s confession in Zinnemann’s Act of Violence). Masks and torches and Mussorgsky for the ice carnival, the demonic sculpture looks silly in the light of day yet "so imposing at night," proclaims the general’s headstrong daughter (Yoshiko Kuga). The glowering scion’s decaying mansion drips like a cavern, the meat knife multiplies on a showcase tray during a fit of delirium. "Maybe I was imagining things. That happens to me a lot." Nearly 100 minutes were cut by the studio, still a pale flame can be felt amidst the scattered limbs of Kurosawa’s acerbic design: four characters and two triangles, some perhaps projections of the mind most tormented, sorted out in suffocating interiors or outside in inescapable snow. The Letter and Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne figure surprisingly in the treatment of the showdown between the two heroines, twice a furnace roars to blazing life to punctuate the scene. Carnations and doppelgängers, money in the fireplace and amulets in the blizzard, a soul’s reverberation and negation. "Oh, stop acting like you are in La Traviata!" Konchalovsky in Runaway Train has the reversal, a Japanese position envisioned as a Russian situation. With Takashi Shimura, Chieko Higashiyama, Minoru Chiaki, and Eijiro Yanagi. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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