Criterion: I Live In Fear (*****) has reason on all sides

I Live In Fear – 1955

Director Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Fumio Hayasaka, Hideo Oguni
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki

In an age so soon after the horrific end to WWII, I am surprised that more films like I Live In Fear were not prevalent. The story has an aging foundry owner Kiichi Nakajima (Mifune) is sued as incompetent by his family for his desire to sell everything and move to Brazil. The case, spurred on by his son, Jiro (Chiaki), is heard by a panel which includes Dr. Harada, played as ever by the thoughtful Shimura. He loses the case after a well reasoned and impassioned plea that almost wins over the doctor.

This touches off a series of events, like a Greek tragedy, where Kiichi’s Lear-like father figure is tortured by what might happen to him and his family who, for the most part, don’t follow in his belief that they all are in imminent danger of dying after another H-Bomb or A-Bomb strikes mainland Japan.

The story is more complicated than this. Kurosawa wisely makes his protagonist a flawed man, who has fathered many children out of wedlock. He wants to move them too. Chiaki, who always seems to play someone cheap and/or devious, presents Jiro as not altogether illogical, even if he isn’t the nicest person.

The key to the story is Shimura’s Dr. Harada. He is in the place of the viewer: able to see both sides and is tortured by the idea that he made a bad decision. Shimura is the perfect cast member for Kurosawa’s desire for making this seemingly outlandish story relatable.

It should be noted that this is also one of Mifune’s best performances to date. He’s almost unrecognizable as a 35 year old man playing someone almost twice that age. His make up and mannerisms are exquisite. More than this, he truly carries the look of a man tortured by his premonitions. He has seen the devastation of his country at the end of the war. He is certain it can happen again. His body is worn down by age, but more than that, his completely rational fear.

As a fan of Jeff Nichols, I find I Live In Fear strongly reminiscent to two of Nichol’s early works, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. Intentional or not, the similarities are astute and quite touching. It takes filmmakers of great vision and compassion to mix the tragic qualities of a characters we know are good into a conflict that can only tear everything down. The kin of decisions where everyone has a point but no one can win are a delightful conundrum to experience.

The music is an incredible mood setter. This was Fumio Hayasaka’s last work before he died. Missing Hayasaka is like wondering what the world would have been like if Buddy Holly had survived. It’s acutely felt when one feels how intense and fitting the sounds are for this film.

Hayasaka

Kurosawa, Shimura and Mifune by this point are in full swing. There is nothing in the world that matches their ability to relay a story.

(***** out of *****)

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