I Live In Fear (Ikimono no kiroku) is a full-length Japanese movie that was written and directed by Japan’s most famous director: Akira Kurosawa. It was released in 1955, directly after Seven Samurai, which is arguably the most well-known Kurosawa movie. I Live In Fear, though, is not the huge production that Seven Samurai was, and is instead a movie that focuses more on emotions and what goes on in the brain. There has been some debate between Kurosawa fans and Literature scholars, that I Live In Fear is mainly derived from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
The movie opens with a dentist. This dentist has a job to do, which is to help decide if an old man is sane or insane. Kiichi Nakajima, played by Kurosawa veteran Toshiro Mifune, is an older man who begins to argue with his children. They believe that he is going to sell his foundry, their only source of income, and will squander the money. The children get together and decide to have him declared mentally incompetent so that they will be able to control what happens with the foundry and the money. If he is found mentally incompetent, he will be sentenced to live out the rest of his days in an asylum, and while some members of his family struggle with this, others do not.
It is eventually discovered that Kiichi is not being so unrational because of his greedy children, but is instead convinced that a nuclear bomb will destroy Japan in a very short time. His reasoning behind selling the foundry is to be able to move the entire family to a farm in Brazil. Kiichi has a few mistresses, and several illegitimate children, and even they get into the mix, clamoring to get into Kiichi’s will should he be remanded to a mental institution. Kiichi even ends up burning down his foundry in order to convince his family to go with him.
After a time, the family ends up having to make a decision on where they stand with their father. The decision is made for them when, during a family meeting, Kiichi starts beating on his youngest son for making a small remark. The movie ends with Kiichi sitting in a cell in a mental institution. He sees the sun setting and believes that it is a fire caused by the nuclear bomb that he always knew would explode. In Kiichi’s eyes, he was right.
There has been some debate over Kurosawa’s decision to cast Mifune as the main character. At the age of thirty-five, Mifune is much younger than Kiichi is. Although makeup, especially back then, has a way of hiding an actor’s facial features, Mifune pulls it off beautifully. It should be noted that he is a bit more active than a real elderly man would be, but the emotion and power he put behind the performance carries it through believably. Kurosawa, one of Japan’s finest directors, cast Mifune in many roles through out his long movie career, and for good reason.