Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Fumio Hayasaka, Hideo Oguni
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Eiko Miyoshi
Following any tragic event, residual fears of it happening again comes as a natural response, especially when the threat continually looms in everyday life. This impact, however, comes measured in different ways from straight-up ignoring it to what occurs in I Live in Fear where it completely consumes the protagonist to the point where his own family members deem him to be unfit to make any major decisions. The battle of concern sits right at the center of this film.
Having seen the impact of the nuclear bomb that landed in Japan, Kiichi Nakajima (Toshiro Mifune) fears it will happen again and wants to move himself and his entire family to Brazil to avoid this danger. With the huge drain on resources it would have on inheritances, Kiichi’s family seeks to have courts deem him unfit seeing as the family members think the old man is being far too reactionary and paranoid about an uncertain future.
Navigating the fear running through this story makes it difficult to not be sympathetic to Kiichi and his efforts to take care of his family. It comes from the inherent paternal instinct within him to ensure the safety of anyone he feels responsible for. Even if it means bringing along his illegitimate children and mistresses as well. His intentions come with such a strong sense of fear that is not reciprocated by others. It shows the generational divide amongst the younger individuals of his family and himself as the man witnessed something he never thought would ever occur in his lifetime. This type of event really brings one’s humanity right to the forefront to confront the reality of how quickly it could all go away. Thus it sets up the two dueling parties, the old man trying his best to protect everyone with all others trying to convince him that it’s a waste of money and completely irrational.
While this narrative gets told from the perspective of Kiichi, a level of reason remains in the conversations held between the family members as well. This story could have easily shown these family members to be leeches just trying to preserve the money coming to them upon Kiichi’s death, but they truly have strong points in trying to convince him away from making this grand decision. The biggest one comes from the obvious fact of there already being enough nuclear weaponry held by major national powers to eradicate the entire Earth, which means hiding out in one specific area would not make much of a difference. A true point, but the tragedy that unfolded in Japan specifically has undoubtedly left its mark with Kiichi and that comes through in such an impressive manner in this feature. Both sides have their point and are willing to do what it takes to ensure they get their way.
Pushing along the story comes different tribunals with Kiichi’s family members trying to convince the higher courts, but the inner turmoil happening in the old man really gets at what the title of the feature wants to evoke. This level of fear becomes the entire emotional hold of the feature and so much of it comes through in the performance by Toshiro Mifune. When compared to the other roles helmed by this acting legend with Akira Kurosawa, this one really sticks out, not only because of him being made to look like such an old man, but also the feebleness of what he portrays. In nearly every other role, Mifune gets to use his physicality to communicate plenty about his characters, but his turn in portraying someone who can barely stand up on his own allows him to be a bit different in his portrayal, which works very well for this film. He captures the fear of this man so well and you believe the entire time that he feels he’s doing the right thing for the sake of his family. It’s what makes the character easy to root for even when his methods and decisions may be a bit too extreme, especially as the narrative progresses towards the climax.
Seeing Japanese artists like Kurosawa and Mifune take on the aftermath of the nuclear drops during World War II shows the beauty of the importance of watching international films. It allows audience members to take a step back from the propaganda they have been fed from their nations about things that have occurred in other countries and actually see how those living there felt. As an American, seeing this feature and others as a reaction to what this nation did in World War II remains incredibly important because it’s easy for us to move on from it, but as seen through Kiichi’s experience, the trauma remains. If nuclear bombs can be dropped to stop a war, it can certainly happen again no matter how civilized the west deems itself when operating in barbaric practices. Something this film shows through its protagonist and how his legitimate fears get turned against him.