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Idiot, The (1951)



Genre: Drama (Japan)

Starring: Setsuko Hara (Tokyo StoryNo Regrets for Our Youth),  Masayuki Mori (Ugetsu • Rashomon)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (KagemushaMadadayo)

Overview: A good and simple mentally-ill man returning from an asylum is caught in a strange love triangle with two women.  

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote it and Akira Kurosawa spent an extensive amount of time and energy directing a modern day post-war version of it - almost five hours long - a necessary epic for such an event-rich novel. 

Then, producers thought the film was too long, and cut it up to a version that was almost three hours in length, ignoring the fact that Kurosawa planned it as a two-parter for audiences. Guess how well received it was? As with all things butchered, some of it tasted good, but at the same time one could easily ask, "What is this?"

It's chicken, trust me.

How can such an international success such as Akira Kurosawa have his work discarded in such a fashion, you ask? One must remember that he was filming this before Rashomon received such acclaim as it did, and the fame he would receive had not yet allowed Kurosawa to be able to keep his epic film intact for producers' scissored hands.

For those who have read Dostoyevsky's The IdiotKurosawa's edited version may be enjoyed, especially with its modern snow-covered setting as a backdrop instead of the summery Russian tale Dostoyevsky wrote, but for the rest of us, it does in fact seem rather disjointed, especially since we never truly experience much of 'The Idiot' in question's madness, which often - we're told - comes out as epileptic seizures. One solitary scene of shrieking fits during a moment of high stress is the only indication we can see of this man's insanity.

For those of us who have not read the novel, we can only assume it stays true to its roots, especially since the sets and other visual aspects are so uninspired. Omnipresent snow is one thing, but it's very clear that cinematography was not the first order of business in Kurosawa's plan.

All told, even Kurosawan completists need not see this, given how much control was lost in the end. 

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Performance: 7 Cinematography: 5 Script: 6 Plot: 4 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 56% (Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!)

Years later, when Kurosawa went back to work for the studio that let him realize his dream of making The Idiot for the silver screen, he searched for the edited footage and was never able to find it.  this means that sadly, never will there be a 'fully restored' director's cut of Kurosawa's The Idiot.

I guess the real shame is how a man's vision of something he genuinely wanted to make was so easily trampled on and molested. It may not be what makes Kurosawa great, but it does put him it the same boat as Orson Welles, Erich von Stroheim, F.W. Murnau, and King Vidor for 'vision compromised in favour of producers whims'. You're in the big leagues now!

Thank goodness for Rashomon's success because from that point on, creative control would rest much more in Kurosawa's hands.

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