Kurosawa was one film away from his breakthrough, Rashomon. Before he would tackle his first period (jidai geki) picture since 1945's The Men Who Tread on Tiger's Tail, Kurosawa had one more bone to pick with post-war Japanese society.
Frustrated with what he saw as the abuse of the expanded freedom of the press in Japan after World War II, Kurosawa sought to make a film that would expose the new tabloid culture for the evil that it was.
That film was Scandal.
In his autobiography, Kurosawa admits that the film was a failure and that it did not achieve the affect that he wanted. He went on to say that he would like to make another picture on the topic.
Kurosawa would pass away before being able to fulfill that wish.
Scandal begins with artist Ichiro Aoe, played by Toshiro Mifune, riding his motorcycle through the hills of rural Japan. As he begins to paint in front of an audience of elderly rural Japanese men, a woman comes walking down the road.
Aoe offers the woman a ride to the town where they both are staying. When they arrive he learns that the woman is actually a well-known singer named Miyako Saigo, played by Yoshiko Yamaguchi.
After an innocent picture is taken of them by a gossip magazine photographer, they are thrust into the spotlight while the magazine begins to make outrageous claims.
While Saigo is content to let things blow over, Aoe believes fighting is the right thing to do.
After a lawyer named Hiruta comes to Aoe's house to offer his assistance, Aoe hires him as his lawyer.
Hiruta, seeking to provide for his bedridden daughter, sells out Aoe and begins to play both sides.
In the end Hiruta must decide between what is right and what is wrong. Hiruta, as well as others in the film, must decide between complacency and action.
Kurosawa is definitely making a statement about Japanese society in this film. But beyond that, he makes a statement about human nature in general (a topic he would come back to more frequently in later films).
The themes of this film echo even in our society today. In Kurosawa's society during the time this film was made, and ours today, the public is more concerned with what is going on in gossip magazines (whether it's true or not) than with what is really going on in the world.
"Once it's in print everyone believes it," says the publisher of the evil magazine Amour in Scandal.
The publisher goes on to talk about how complacent famous people are, which is why Kurosawa provides a more common man to take on the rotten magazine.
Aoe, who acts as Kurosawa's ideal Japanese citizen, stands up for his rights in the film. Kurosawa puts Aoe on a pedestal to make him a symbol of how he believes a true citizen should act.
"We live in a modern nation with modern institutions," Aoe says. Here Kurosawa shows the hypocrisy of a nation that abuses its freedoms.
The lawyer Hiruta, played by Takashi Shimura, echoes these sentiments when he tells Aoe that, "before we could distinguish between right and wrong and now we don't have any idea."
Hiruta is a hypocrite himself, as he begins to play both sides of the case. He shows us that even the people who think they believe in justice, and who believe they are just themselves, can be corrupted.
Kurosawa adds the perfect character to personify innocence. Hiruta's daughter Masako, confined to her bed for the last five years due to tuberculosis, does not experience what it is like in modern society.
Masako enjoys simple things and is "pure" according to Aoe.
Kurosawa provides a ray of hope near the end of the film in the form of two sequences.
The first is during a scene with Hiruta and Aoe at a bar on Christmas. Hiruta, disgusted with himself over what he's done and how he doesn't deserve such a good daughter, attempts to drink his problems away.
Another drunk then stands up and begins to talk about the coming new year, and how everything will change for him when it comes.
Hiruta, energized by the man's speech, stands up and tells the man that he too will be a different man come the new year.
During a rousing (and somewhat drunken) rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" sung in Japanese, Kurosawa cuts to a number of singers who represent all the Japanese who wish to start anew come the new year.
The second scene comes immediately after this, when Aoe is bringing Hiruta home. Staring down at the reflection in the pond near Hiruta's home, Aoe tells him that stars have fallen into the pond.
Aoe describes to Hiruta how his daughter is one of these stars. Kurosawa shows us that even in a filthy world, hope rests in those few stars that have fallen.
Kurosawa makes other, more subtle comments on what he must have felt as problems with society.
The courtroom during the trial is filled with cameras and lights. Japanese society at the time had made a mockery of the judicial system.
Kurosawa clearly has no sympathy for the tabloid press. The first time we see a shot of them in their workplace, they are shot almost in complete darkness, hunched over the photo of Aoe and Miyako, plotting their plan to exploit the two.
There also seems to be a soft spot in Kurosawa's heart for traditional Japanese people. The simpletons at the beginning are portrayed as almost childlike. This portrayal is cemented when they are called to trial and laughed at because they don't know what an oath is and they often speak to each other when one is called to the stand.
The countryside in the film is also portrayed in a far better light than the city, which has wall to wall posters and signs with gossip on them.
Like many Kurosawa films, especially those before Rashomon when the humanist element was not so strong, the issue presented in the first act of the film loses a lot of steam and is almost forgotten by the third act.
Instead, because Kurosawa presents his characters so well, the film is taken over by them. Scandal may have failed as a social comment by Kurosawa, but the film nonetheless is an interesting character study, but will pale in comparison to his next film, Rashomon.