I Live in Fear (1955)

“Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.”

‘I Live in Fear’, written and directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1955, is a drama set in contemporary Japan. A factory owner, Nakajima played by Toshiro Mifune, is terrified of nuclear war and is pressuring his family to move to Brazil. His family resists and the subsequent fight for control of the family money and authority sends Nakajima mad. It’s a stark snapshot of the anxieties of post-war Japan, particularly following the nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1950s. This seems to me to be a common theme in Kurosawa’s movies, from ‘Stray Dog’, even including his historical films such as ‘Seven Samurai’. In all these films, the bomb hangs heavily, whether the reference is a literal one, as in this film, or a metaphorical one, for example the shocking appearance and effect of a firearm in a medieval village. ‘I Live in Fear’ is a neat parable, but it is also a tragic portrait of an affluent factory owner. This focus on the elderly is also a common theme in films of the time, but Nakajima’s journey into insanity is the flipside of the measured and stoic presentation of the same generation in Ozu’s ‘Tokyo Story’. Mifune’s performance as an elderly man, a year after playing the young and impetuous Kikuchiyo in ‘Seven Samurai’, is incredible and utterly believable. Similarly, Takashi Shimura’s performance as a character who is almost persuaded by Nakajima is a fascinating reversal of their roles in Kurosawa’s earlier film. ‘I Live in Fear’ doesn’t have the epic sweep of Kurosawa’s historical movies, but it contains a condensation of all the themes and visual stylings that make his films so distinctive.

 

Would I recommend it? Yes – maybe with ‘Tokyo Story’ (because everyone should watch that) or with ‘Stray Dog’ for another view of post-war Tokyo.

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