Review: Hakuchi (The Idiot, 1951)

the idiot

Just how many times can a movie say that a guy has a heart of gold?

Written By: Eijirô Hisaita & Akira Kurosawa
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

There are moments of Hakuchi that do engage me. Those are mostly moments of the visual variety. Whenever the film began to drag, and this happened quite often, Akira Kurosawa would do something with his camera or his staging of a scene that would pull me back into the heart of the film. Soon after the narrative would rear its ugly head again and I’d be driven back out by a film that wanted to hammer its theme into my head as forcefully as possible. The wonderful visuals, and staging such as the Dragon festival, are sumptuous to watch, but they are surrounded by a bumbling story that is a slog to get through.

The teaser I do before my reviews is usually a joke, and more often than not it doesn’t actually pertain to the film I’m critiquing. That’s not the case with Hakuchi, as my main issue with the film resides in the film presenting the same idea, or scenario if you will, to me over and over again. Kameda is a good guy, he’s a simpleton but he’s better than most around him because of the way his simple nature causes him to look at, and interact with, the world. That’s well understood about a half hour into Hakuchi, and that’s a generous timetable as it’s actually clear earlier than that. Again and again the narrative returns to Kameda as the nice guy being crapped on who takes what people are throwing his way and eventually wins them over with his kindness and selflessness. There’s a commentary on Japan in the post-World War II landscape taking place, but even that is obvious after the first few scenes we spend with Kameda. Yet, the film keeps presenting the same ideas and scenarios like a wrecking ball being hurled at the viewer until they’ve been turned into mush.

I also have problems with the editing in Hakuchi. Usually when I’m noticing editing that means there’s something wrong with the editing in a film. I’m not so sure that there’s anything wrong with the editing in Hakuchi, but the proliferation of wipe cuts is a distraction while trying to engage with the film. There’s a scene at a birthday party where Kurosawa-san uses three or four wipe cuts within a single minute, and the cuts are unnecessary. The characters don’t really change where they are, or what they are saying, but every couple of seconds a wipe cut is used to move the characters a few inches. Perhaps Kurosawa-san is getting at something with his usage of wipe cuts, but I found them more distracting than anything else.

Being a film from Akira Kurosawa makes Hakuchi worth taking the time to watch. It’s not a great film, though it is beautifully filmed. Mostly I came away from Hakuchi feeling like I had been dragged through the process of watching the film. I didn’t enjoy getting to the end of the film, Kurosawa-san had to drag me kicking and screaming through the heavy handed film he made. Good guys can be treated badly, no matter how much gold is in their hearts, doesn’t mean I need to see that repeated time and again in a motion picture.



Bill Thompson


5 responses to “Review: Hakuchi (The Idiot, 1951)

  1. This is one of the Kurosawa films that we’ll never know what he intended the film to be. Toho chopped well over an hour of film from it, and the final cut is not what Kurosawa wanted. He always distanced himself from the film because of this. Supposedly, his original film clocked in some where just above the 4 hour mark. Toho saw it as a film that wouldn’t be profitable for theaters or themselves, so they pared it down quickly so they could release it and hopefully ride the wave of attention that Kurosawa was getting after Rashomon.

  2. Interesting, although I wonder if the cut material is more of the same if it would really make that much of a difference.

  3. Pingback: Review: À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) | Bill's Movie Emporium

  4. where can i see this film ??

  5. I believe it is on Criterion’s new streaming service.

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