Like most people I first came to the films of Kurosawa through his jidai-geki/period drama films, it's only been quite recently that I've begun to explore Kurosawa's other titles like Stray Dog/Nora Inu and Drunken Angel/Yoidore Tenshi , the latest of his non jidai-geki ouput I've watched is I Live In Fear/Ikimono no kiroku, the film is often referred to, (Stuart Galbraith IV's mammoth The Emperor and The Wolf :The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Faber and Faber 2002), as Record of A Living Being. Released in 1955 and starring two regulars of Kurosawa's films; Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, Record of A Living Being is an exploration of the anxiety of the cold war era, released soon after Godzilla it relies on none of the metaphor that that film implies, but openly voices the fears of living in the nuclear age. Dr Harada, (played by Shimada), runs his family dentist business, and also works as a mediator at a family court, arriving there after being summoned he's caught in the middle of a heated family argument, slowly the nature of the family disagreement is revealed. The father, Kiichi Nakajima,(played by Mifune), the owner of a family run foundry, to escape from the threat of atomic bombs wants to relocate the family to South America, he has already constructed an underground shelter in Akita province, but discovers that this won't be completely safe. The rest of the family want the court to declare him mentally unsound to prevent the move. At first the negotiations are stuck in stale mate, Kiichi shouts "Baka"! to any of his sons who protest against the move, to discredit their father further they look at each other uncertainly and ask if he's intending to take all the family, referring to his illegitimate children and his mistresses too, Kiichi replies that he'll take everyone, the proceedings nearly end in a brawl. A man arrives from Brazil who's eager to sell his plantation and Kiichi tries desperately to raise the funds, but things go awry, the deal falls through, eventually the court's decision falls in favour of the family. The judge afterwards trying to absolve himself from his own judgement declares that, "It's the H-bomb's fault, it made him this way".
Made in the era of the Bikini Atoll testings and the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident it's not difficult to imagine how directly this film must have spoken to it's audience, the film relates to both the past and the future, it's prophetic message is finely observed and crafted through it's contemporary setting. Throughout the film Dr Harada seems to be the only official who doubts his feelings and misgivings about Kiichi's case and motives, medical testing proves that Kiichi is sane, and many times Kiichi protests his reasons - "It's cowards who tremble and shut their eyes, that's why I'm moving", the consequences of Kiichi's fears become apparent after the ruling, he orders a family gathering and begs his family to come with him, mother too changes her point of view and also begins to beg the family, the emotional scene ends with Kiichi collapsing. While he convalesces the family begin to contemplate changing the will in order to finally solve the problem. The film picks up again with Dr Harada pursuing the Nakajima's to see what has happened only to find that the foundry has been burnt to the ground. In the aftermath Kiichi admits to burning it down, "You wouldn't go to Brazil because of the foundry, so I burnt it down!". The extent of Kiichi's presumed madness is heightened by the protestations of the workers, You don't mind if we starve, he's mad! they shout, and after he's been taken into custody the other convicts mock him, 'H-bombs, you're a fool to care, leave it to the politicians!', they jeer at him. Gilbraith observes Record of A Living Being as Kurosawa's testing out ideas which would be more fully realized in Ran, with Kiichi being an early prototype for the Hidetora/Lear character. Dr Harada eventually tracks Kiichi down to a mental hospital where the Dr there admits 'Maybe I'm not sane as I think I am', Kiichi is viewed as either a madman in a sane world or a sane man in a mad world, Kiichi staring out of the window confuses the sun with the earth, It's burning, it's burning!. Kurosawa ends the film with a finely composed scene of Harada walking down the hospital stairs away from Harada and his daughter walking apprehensively up to visit him.