Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear (1955) drew me with the first scene when a dentist mentions he’s a judge for the local family court. Family court in Japan? This is bound to be interesting. At family court, where in 1955 Japan three men from the neighborhood and a silent woman (the secretary?), hear the cases of family disputes. In this case adult children want to have Kiichi Nakajima, their father, ruled incompetent because his fear of subsequent atomic bombings compels him to move his family, wife, grown children and their spouses and his mistresses and children by them, to Brazil, where they’ll be safe.
The court hears all sides and ponders a decision, while back at home family members continue to bicker, worried about money, the father’s will, the family business-a foundry the father still runs. Meanwhile the father goes around town presenting his plan to his illegitimate children, a son whose mother has died, a daughter whose mother runs a bar Nakajima funds and a married daughter who’s husband talks way too much about the effects of such bombs to a man who’s already obsessed and anxious about them. Say what you will about this man who certainly got around, but he provides and protects them all. He’s given jobs and a home to his legitimate sons and makes sure the others get money every month. In a touching scene outside the courtroom, when tempers were running high and the father was furious with his children, he returns to the corridor and gives his wife and children a bottle of orange soda pop. Providing for his family is so ingrained. Yet no one notices.
The case drags on, apparently more than most cases do in family court. All judges admit that the father has a point. The dentist, played by one of my favorite Japanese actors, points out that perhaps it’s crazy to go along with your life ignoring the bomb. Certainly, in Japan it should have been. In hindsight we know nuclear bombs haven’t been used since WWII, but in 1955 it wasn’t clear they wouldn’t be. The judges just can’t bring themselves to rule for Nakajima. Leaving a successful business and good middle class life, to go to Brazil was just too much. (Though there are lots of Japanese in Brazil and Peru. I wonder when they immigrated.)
He’s looked into buying a farm in Brazil and the seller comes to Japan to show the family a film about it and answer their questions. Nakajima isn’t completely crazy. He takes rational steps. The court clearly considered this though they also sympathize with the adult children who just don’t want to be uprooted. Eventually, Nakajima’s youngest legitimate daughter and his wife agree to go, but an appeals court would still need to rule in favor of the father.
The film’s an absorbing look at Japanese culture and the impact of nuclear weapons. I know I’ve pretty much filed their existence in the back of my head, and though I don’t want Nakajima’s obsession, a reminder of their consequences isn’t bad.