“The Idiot” is one of my favourite novels. Kurosawa is a brilliant director. I had high hopes for this adaptation. Unfortunately, while it’s certainly not a bad film, it definitely doesn’t live up the novel, or to Kurosawa’s immense talent. The version available is heavily truncated from its original cut, but Kurosawa opted to adapt the novel quite faithfully (the main changes being superficial things like character’s names).
If at the scriptwriting stage he truncated the story down, it wouldn’t have been much of a problem, but since it happened in the editing stage, there is a great amount of orphaned subplots, character developments, interactions, and so on. At times the film is nearly completely incoherent, because there’s so much vital material clearly missing. I truly wonder just how comprehensible the film would be to someone who hasn’t read the novel.
Cinematically, there isn’t a great deal impressive here. Kurosawa is as skilled as ever, but there’s little done creatively in terms of adaptation. The story is told primarily through the words of Dostoyevsky, not through the visuals of Kurosawa. It seems often a director who is an enormous fan of a work isn’t the best choice to adapt it, as they’re too attached and close to it to make the adjustments necessary to make it work in the unique medium it’s being adapted to. I certainly felt Kurosawa’s earnest enjoyment and passion for Dostoyevsky bleed through the movie, but I’m unsure that’s purely a good thing.
The characters and story at the heart of the film, taken right from Dostoyevsky, are great, but the movie unfortunately isn’t. I give it three traded charms, and a secret letter.