Blown up to the size of giant metaphors in the Godzilla films, Japanese fear and paranoia in the wake of nuclear bombing, which decimated parts of their country, may have softened the blow for Western audiences.
But, as seen through the lens of the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa it is up close and very personal.
Toshiro Mifune portrays an aging industrialist obsessed with moving to Brazil to escape what he is certain will be future atomic horrors. He pleads with his family to go with him. They have no wish to accompany him. Instead they take him to court to freeze his funds and have him declared mentally incompetent. (Some of the family members seem more preoccupied with being included in his will, even though he is still alive.)
Walking with a stooped gait and a haunted look in his eyes, the great Mifune is almost unrecognizable as the same actor who portrayed the heroic warrior in Kurosawa’s classic Eastern western The Seven Samurai.
I can hear echoes of King Lear in the screenplay (I know Kurosawa was a Shakespeare buff because he later remade Macbeth as Throne of Blood).
Although it was shot in the mid 50s, this little seen film is more than relevant today with news about North Korea and Iran stoking fears of nuclear annihilation.
Slate Magazine, in a 2008 review by Fred Kaplan, compares the anxiety of Mifune’s character to the paranoia of New Yorkers following 9/11: “many of us feared to ride the subway, shuddered at strangely shaped bags, conjured mushroom clouds over the Empire State Building, and contemplated moving, if not to Brazil, then at least across the Tappan Zee Bridge, where life might be safer. ”
As one of the characters says in the film: “Is he crazy? Or are we, who can remain unperturbed in an insane world, the crazy ones?”
As Bill S. himself might say “Ay, there’s the rub.”