Wednesday, May 26, 2010

RECORD OF A LIVING BEING (Akira Kurosawa, 1955, Japan)

Nakajima suffer the fallout from his nuclear family, consumed by fear that eats the soul. Director Akira Kurosawa’s concise character study puts an aging patriarch, Kiichi Nakajima (a volatile performance from legendary Toshiro Mifune, playing a man twice his actual age!), on trial for loving his family so much that it destroys them.

Nakajima is a successful foundry owner whose life was forged by fire and steel, and whose family (both consanguineous and illegitimate) lives comfortably off his fortune. But they move to have him sanctioned when he begins spending his life-savings building bomb shelters and eventually planning to move the entire clan to South America…against their will. Nakajima is consumed by fear of nuclear war, the ultimate disintegration of social mores and family values. His life has come to a spiritual halt, paralyzed and frightened beyond endeavor: Kurosawa begs the question, is Nakajima irrational or hyper rational? He could liquidate few assets and move himself to safety but his desire is in saving his extended family, in selling his factory and starting a new life on a farm in a foreign country, safe (at least, for now) from the H-bomb. In one transcendental scene, after he is declared incompetent, he diminishes his role as patriarch and begs his children to move with him, prostrate on the floor: it is a humiliating display. He fails to pursued them and sets his foundry ablaze, burning down his life in hope of convincing them to join his exile. Finally, Nakajima is institutionalized with a fractured mind and he believes himself safe from harm, but cries for those left on earth who are burning, burning, burning…
Kurosawa casts Takashi Shimura as a dentist, a volunteer mediator for the local family court who will have to make a decision on Nakajima’s case. He brings a humble sensibility that contrasts Mifune’s tempest, allowing the issue to be examined objectively. Are his actions unfounded? There are no answers and Kurosawa doesn’t preach or offer any trite resolution: it’s important enough just to present the question. Fumio Hayasaka’s Theremin score induces a disquiet and unsettling dis-ease, upsetting rational expectations. The final shot of a split staircase, the older Shimura descending as the young mistress ascends isn’t an explanation, only a glimmer of hope for the future. Maybe the only thing to fear is fear itself. Final Grade: (B+)

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