Many films of this era tap into fear and paranoia but not many address if destruction will come from those who fear it or those who ignore it.
Post-War Kurosawa: Eclipse Series 7Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Setsuko Hara
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1980
US DVD Release Date: 2008-01-15
The least interesting title here is Scandal (1950), although the theme is surprisingly contemporary. Toshiro Mifune plays a painter who's photographed by a paparazzo (not called that, since Fellini hadn't made La Dolce Vita yet) and romantically linked with an actress in a scandal sheet. It winds up in the courtroom as people argue about libel and truth. One of the eternal rules of drama that no one seems to understand is that ending in a courtroom is always, always death -- the great exception being Take the Money and Run. Dramatists seem to be attracted to the instant formula of opposition, passionate argument, and alleged suspense, but nothing deflates a story faster than going to court. Even Perry Mason knew the true function of a courtroom is to unmask a killer, not resolve an issue.
That aside, of course the picture is well-made and has its charms, from Mifune at his most dashing to the figure of a morally ambiguous attorney whose weary Everyman persona anticipates the desperate salaryman who would take center stage in Ikiru (1952).
Next on the interest meter is One Wonderful Sunday (1947), a semi-neorealist slice of life that follows a young couple in love. Their Sunday is hardly wonderful, since they are constantly threatened or thwarted by their lack of money, which among other things prevents their marriage. The theme is the difficulty of getting by in the postwar era (still under US occupation), and the idea is to present a portrait of a city (Tokyo) at a certain point in its history. It may be compared with Vincente Minnelli's hopeful yet bittersweet The Clock or even with King Vidor's The Crowd, which are both about how ordinary couples try to entertain themselves on a single day.
One Wonderful Sunday
The most immediate postwar film here, No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), is intriguing in several ways. First, its style is quite smooth and lilting as it follows the moral development of a young woman who learns about social responsibility after falling in love with a handsome proletarian and eventually leaving the city to work on his parents' farm. Her political consciousness runs counter to the rise of militarism that sweeps the country into war and victimizes the lovers in different ways, which is why she need have no regrets for her youth. In the angst of defeat and occupation, this film's point would seem to be consolation and assertion that not everybody shares the guilt of political collaboration, that many Japanese resisted militarism and that now they can work for a brighter future.
No Regrets for Our Youth
The final two films in this set are the best and could easily have sustained their own single discs on aesthetic principles alone. Indeed, The Idiot (1951) might have made an interesting double-feature with the Russian adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel from the same decade, also owned by Janus Films. Kurosawa's version is more complete, more brilliant and possibly even more faithful in spirit if not letter, despite being updated to postwar Japan.
On the other hand, I Live in Fear (1955) is major Kurosawa, and perhaps this will finally be understood if enough people see it. This is Kurosawa's Godzilla movie.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Wait a minute, Kurosawa's Godzilla movie was one of the segments of the magisterial late masterpiece Dreams (1990). That's what you were thinking, right? Well, the two works are linked, since one attempts to present the undiluted dream, while I Live in Fear (also known as Record of a Living Being) is the waking drama of the dreamer.
A Godzilla movie addresses the two grim, overwhelming facts of postwar Japan: the traumatic past and the dreadful future. The past means war and images of destroyed cities: the nuclear victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the actually more widespread devastation of the firebombed Tokyo. The future means war and further nuclear destruction, this time as Japan is caught between the US and USSR, both frighteningly near with their atomic tests. Godzilla movies address these topics directly as well as mythically and metaphorically; their science-fiction formula is ultimately cathartic and hopeful. The specific seed of the first Godzilla movie in 1954 was an incident of that year when two fishermen were contaminated by fallout from American nuclear tests, an event that catalyzed the country's ambiguous fears and feelings about its relations to the US, now that the postwar economic miracle was finally occurring.
I Live in Fear
It's an impasse created by his own sense of historical complicity and guilt and their desire to avoid all bad issues and move on, and by his own willful, active nature against their inertia and devotion to the system. Nothing will help this man but extensive therapy, and the film dwells so convincingly in his helpless paranoia, or rather his embodiment is so unnervingly convincing, that the viewer begins to wonder how this uncanny and uncomfortable scenario can end. Will his certainty conjure the apocalypse into being? Call it Waiting for Godzilla.
Of course, the monster doesn't arrive because this isn't a science fiction movie, but Kurosawa's message is the flipside of One Wonderful Sunday, which suggests that optimistic belief can have positive effects. Here, belief is equally powerful in its effects, though not for the good. It seems to be a parable suggesting that nuclear apocalypse is possible precisely because there are those in the world who believe in it, who commit themselves to it, and these people are sure to bring about destruction for themselves and others. But will the destruction come from those who fear it or those who ignore it? It's a valid scenario for fear, a study of "fear itself". Many films of that era (and before, and after) tap into fear and paranoia but not many address this particular topic and this particular facet of how we become the reality we create.