Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I Live in Fear
There is more than one reason for recommending this film. Not the least is the vibrant yet restrained cinematography, which recreates with wistful and nostalgic realism the Japan waking up from the shock of defeat. It's a kind of ashen yet luminescent black and white, vibrating with the energy of Tokyo streets humming with surging multitudes. In the process of telling his tale, Kurosawa gives an incredibly lucid introduction to a society at a particular time. It is camera-poetry which touches the sublime in it's simplicity, unaffectedness, faithfulness and utter ordinariness. It is in fact the grandeur of ordinary life.
Yet all is not ordinary. This is a movie about living with the new reality of the Bomb, and 1955 Japan is the right time and place to talk about it, neither too early nor too late.
Nakajima (played by Toshiro Mifune) is a prosperous aging businessman scared out of his wits by the H-bomb and utterly convinced about the imminence of nuclear attack. Not satisfied with constructing an underground dwelling, he takes concrete steps to dispose of his assets and invest in a farm in Brazil, where he wants to move with his entire family including the offspring of his mistresses. But the family petitions the court to have him declared mentally incompetent since they all see no reason to be running away from their comfortable lives in Japan. The story, which starts of on a low key, takes grim overtones, as the depth of the old fellow's fixation emerges, and it becomes clear that he means business.
Kurosawa's intention seems to be clear and the hero is in fact meant to be a blend of sanity and insanity. A world whistling merrily atop a lethal heap of nuclear weapons is not entirely sane. Neither is the person who sees this reality to be easily dismissed as paranoid.
In 2010, we know that the disaster feared by the protagonist in 1955 has not yet happened but the realities are the same. The fact remains that the Japanese in 1955 seemed to have already forgotten what they alone had experienced.
There does to be some clumsiness in the delivery of the "message", and it is not clear whose side the film-maker is on . Neither was it easy for the legal intercessaries who had to decide the issue of Nakajima's mental competence. And nor, for that matter, is it for us. Blindness seems to be a fundamentally inherent human defense mechanism.
Thanks to Nathanael Hood for suggesting this movie.
Review by Nathanael Hood