Tuesday, July 11, 2006


An ongoing Kurosawa series showed a rarity recently: I LIVE INFEAR. Produced the year after SEVEN SAMURAI, it is a remarkablemovie. Toshiro Mifune stars as the patriarch of a rather divided family who is very very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war and the dangers of radiation. He wants to sell his successful family business and relocate his family to Brazil to avoid what he views as certain death from the H-Bomb. His family is not entirely sympathetic, and attempts to have him declared incompetent. Part ofthe interest of the film comes from watching Mifune's behavior, and trying to decide as to how right he is to be so concerned. Is his concern justified, or is he just going nuts?

Apparently there was a lot more justification for the Mifune character's concern than I had thought. A little post-movie checking showed me that there were a lot of atomic tests going on at the time the film was made. Apparently there was even one incident where a fishing boat had got caught in a fallout cloud. It wasn't just in movies that folks were thinking of departing Japan for less radioactive parts.

I don't know if anyone is going to list I LIVE IN FEAR as one ofKurosawa's greatest efforts. There's a piece of stunt casting that nearly sinks the film, and unfortunately it is Mifune himself as the patriarch. Playing a character apparently twice his age, Mifune assumes a cane and a bit of a stoop, but nothing, not even dyed hair and glasses, can hide his (to me at least) astonishing physical magnetism. Try as he might, he can't hide his youth and energy. It would be like Marlon Brando at the height of his STREETCAR/WATERFRONT beauty playing someone that old. As fascinating as the stunt is, it winds up distracting from the film. Mifune does his best, of course. He pulls off lots of wonderful little moments, especially a running habit of grunting angrily and furiously fanning at the stupidity of his ungrateful children, and his final scenes are very effective.

There are other wonderful performances as well. Takashi Shimura has a role as a dentist (kind of the audience's surrogate) who finds himself drawn into the family struggles, and he is excellent as usual: he's certainly among the most dependably excellent actors I know of. It was also interesting to see Minoru Chiaki, who played the monk in RASHOMON and the comic samurai in SEVEN SAMURAI, this time in modern dress playing a rather undistinguished, rather spineless person. Other members of the Kurosawa Repertory Company appear as well: the film is full of familiar faces. Ultimately, I LIVE IN FEAR is a fascinating and troubling film that asks a lot of difficult questions without supplying any easy answers. I liked the film very much.

No comments: