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Akira Kurosawa's I Live in Fear is an expressive, caustic, portrait of madness. Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai) portrays an ageing industrialist driven to madness over fears of a nuclear attack. The most frightening aspect of Kurosawa's film is not the threat of nuclear annihilation, but the very proliferation of man's inhumanity and greed, expressed by the family's zeal to commit their father and keep their inheritances intact. Mifune's superb acting and Kurosawa's inventive mise-en-scene illustrate the tragic isolation that eventually overwhelms the helpless old patriarch.
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The official title of I Live in Fear is Record of a Living Being, and coming as it did after Kurosawa's triumphant Seven Samurai it was perhaps inevitably a box-office failure. With barely a decade passing after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese filmgoers avoided this serious drama about the gloomy specter of nuclear annihilation. It's not always an easy film to watch, but that's only because the story wields substantial emotional power, taking form as a kind of modern King Lear with its scenario of family strife and internal plotting. As such, it bears tangential relationship to Kurosawa's own rendition of Lear, his final epic Ran.
Playing a character twice his age, Toshirô Mifune (barely recognizable from Seven Samurai) is the patriarch of a large extended family (the "I" of the title) who has decided to move to a Brazilian farm to escape the psychological torment of the atomic bomb. Charging him with "mental incompetence," his adult children plot to override his decision, and a mediator (Takashi Shimura) attempts to balance the battle. This turns the film (like much of Kurosawa's work) into a quest for truth: Is the father insane with fear? Are his fears truly justified? In Japan of the 1950s these were not easy questions, and the death during production of Kurosawa's best friend (composer Fumio Hayasaka) lends the film additional gravity and import. If the story and its execution seem at times ambivalent, it's only because Kurosawa (and Japan itself) was still struggling to find meaning--to create a record of a living being--in a world that could be destroyed at any moment. --Jeff Shannon
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