A Month of Kurosawa: I Live in Fear (1955)

To celebrate the upcoming release of my book, Akira Kurosawa: A Viewer’s Guide, due out Dec. 15 from Rowman & Littlefield — preorder here! — I’ll be doing capsule reviews all month covering every single Kurosawa film and posting (very) brief excerpts. These will be short impressions and recommendations, nothing more. For a full, detailed analysis of each, grab the book!

I Live in Fear (1955) aka Record of a Living Being

How do you follow one of the greatest epics of all time, Seven Samurai?

You don’t. Or rather, you try something completely different. Following the gigantic undertaking that was Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa aimed for something a little smaller: a meditation on fear of the atomic bomb. Starring Toshiro Mifune as an old man — yes, that’s actually Mifune in the still above! — this film deals with a subject Kurosawa would revisit in the 1990s, namely the scars left on the Japanese psyche following World War II.

If the topic is of interest, the film is less so, failing to explore its themes with the depth they deserve and feeling endless despite its relatively brisk 103-minute run time. The primary bright spot here, the main reason to watch it, is Mifune. From the book:

Mifune is remarkable here as well, even if his performance at times borders on parody. He staggers and lumbers like an old man, his hips teetering, his arms swinging with the weight of many years. This from a man who was just 35. Even moreso than his work in Seven Samurai, this is a remarkable example of the sheer physicality of his acting. This film is among the director’s least essential, but anyone studying Mifune must give it an examination.

Beyond that, this film is worth studying if you have an interest in Kurosawa’s examination of postwar life in Japan, otherwise it’s one that casual fans need not have on their short list of films to watch. This is bottom tier Kurosawa.

Check out my upcoming book for a full analysis exploring this film’s ideas, themes, good points, and bad

You can get the movie in this excellent boxed set.


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