The Bad Sleep Well was a fun one. Probably the most minimalist set of designs I’ve ever turned in, especially considering I basically put all my eggs in one basket with this one concept that I latched onto pretty early. This is a movie with Toshiro Mifune in it, too, who's about as big a box office draw as we get at Criterion, so I was pretty lucky to be able to convince the higher-ups to let me try a purely graphic treatment, with no picture of Mifune to sell it.
The seed of the design concept was planted within ten minutes of sitting down to watch the film. What sets the plot rolling at the beginning of the film is a cake rolled into a wedding ceremony, in the shape of the office building owned by the father of the bride. There’s a rose stuck into the spot on the cake indicating the window from which one of his employees recently fell to his death, and implicating him in the murder. It’s the equivalent of the play-within-a-play in Hamlet; the Claudius character is called out in a public setting. (Later in the film, there’s also a photo of the building with an “X” marked over the window in question that performs a similar function, if I’m remembering correctly.) The graphic simplicity of just calling out the location of the murder being enough to implicate the murderer is too good to pass up, so I just ran with it.
Here’s my first pass:
The first two were, I thought, some of my more successfully blatant swipes from Reid Miles—I can’t remember if I had True Blue specifically in mind at the time, but it’s obviously at least a subconscious theft. The only problem was that nothing in them said “office building” in the way we wanted them to—the building in question could just as easily have been an apartment building or something. They needed more of an air of “corporate crime.”
The next one is a little less “‘50s,” but more “corporate,” which is a big part of what makes it work. It’s also taken a little more directly (though not exactly) from the shape of the building in the film—the air vents (or whatever they are) on top of the building should be recognizable to anyone who knows the film well.
There was some back and forth on how faithful we needed to be to the film—I think the building in the film only has around seven stories total, and my design seemed to be a much taller building. Ultimately, we chalked that up to artistic license. We spent a good two hours researching the vintage of those label maker machines—when were they invented, would they have existed in Japan at the time the film is set, etc. (I think it turned out they were created a few years prior to the film’s release, but probably wouldn’t have been in common usage yet.) That proved to be a bigger sticking point, so I tried a couple other type options.
We had also just produced a bunch of black-white-and-red covers in a row, so I tried a couple versions with greys instead of blacks, or switching the colors around.
But it was much stronger in the original color scheme—the red “x” popped much better against the higher contrast setting. And everyone (not suprisingly) dug the biggest, boldest title treatment, so that’s where we wound up at the end of the day.