I Live in Fear (Akira Kurosawa / Japan, 1955):
(Ikimono no Kiroku; Record of a Living Being)

The monstrous spawn of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Godzilla, brought to human size and contemplated through the filter of civil court. The aged patriarch (Toshiro Mifune) has not learned to stop worrying and love the bomb: his decisions are "consumed with worry" and steer the household towards bankruptcy, his plans of escape involve uprooting his family from Japan ("a valley that all radioactivity flows into") to Brazil. His relatives file a petition to have him deemed incompetent, though his insanity is really the "super sanity" Jean Dubuffet referred to: "Everybody has to die, but I won’t be murdered!" Akira Kurosawa’s social x-raying is a continuation of Ikiru, this time with Takashi Shimura as the observer standing in for the audience’s torn conscience while Mifune assays a more aggressive form of geriatric rebellion against a callous system. The 35-year-old Mifune’s impersonation of a fear-racked septuagenarian is a remarkable chunk of near-Kabuki cantankerousness -- ducking from imagined nuclear blasts, darting from underneath a gray-dusted crew-cut, and wielding a fan like a whip, he lays out the Lear he could have given Kurosawa in Ran. The theme is stated flatly ("Are we, who can remain unperturbed in an insane world, the crazy ones?"), but the most interesting effects lie in the grim, almost McCarey-like comedy of familial unease, as when an excruciatingly prolonged static shot of Mifune debasing himself before his extended clan becomes as distressing to behold as a mushroom cloud. Mifune curled up in the asylum cell is from Lang (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), as is the final image of tentative hope amid emptiness; the open-air shot with Mt. Fuji in the background becomes the view of the sun as a burning Earth, seen through a barred window. Shohei Imamura furthers the issue in Black Rain. With Minoru Chiaki, Eiko Miyoshi, Kyoko Aoyama, Haruko Togo, Noriko Sengoku, Eijiro Tono, and Ken Mitsuda. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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