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I Live in Fear (1955)


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 04:23 PM

I've been reading the big Kurosawa-Mifune biography "The Emperor and the Wolf" lately, and watching some of the more obscure Kurosawa features that I've missed.  Last night I watched "I Live in Fear", a drama that Kurosawa made right after he did "Seven Samurai" -- it's the story of an elderly patriarch who is in family court because his children want him declared mentally incompetent, all because of his fear of H-Bombs and nuclear radiation, driving him insane ultimately.

 

Kurosawa built fairly elaborate sets that looked quite simple in design, but allowed him to pull back and use longer focal length lenses and multiple cameras at times.

 

The opening scene is in a tiny court office on a hot day with almost a dozen characters piled in there.  The master shots seem to be done on a 50mm or 75mm with a fairly high light level to allow most of the characters to stay in focus.

 

You can see in the first angle, which Kurosawa plays for a long time, the layout:

 

iliveinfear1.jpg

 

That foreground desk is technically along the window side of the room so clearly either the window wall was pulled or the whole set pushed back from the window wall to make room for the camera and longer lenses.  I only suspect the second just because the window wall is not a simple set, outside the windows is an alley and beyond that more windows and offices inside.

 

The scene cuts to a close-up of a lawyer sitting in the back corner (I didn't pull that shot).  He gets up and crosses into the room, showing us a side angle of the space, but the camera PANS with him to the window side of the room:

 

iliveinfear2.jpg

 

iliveinfear3.jpg

 

And then tracks around on a long lens until we are looking from flat-on to the window side: 

 

iliveinfear4.jpg

 

You can see in this tighter shot that the set has more sets visible beyond the window, so it wouldn't have been easy to move that wall (you can see that the light level must have been quite high for that background to be in focus from stopping down the lens):

 

iliveinfear5.jpg

 

Anyway, I love the compression of the longer lenses, making the people look more packed against each other, and though occasionally one character is blocked from view by another, the staging is so well-blocked that we see things at the right moment.


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 04:33 PM

The last scene in the movie was quite moving... the old man has been put into an asylum where he thinks he is now safe from radiation, living off of the Planet Earth.  One of the lawyers who ruled against him in court feels guilty and visits him in his cell.  There is a hot slash of sunlight in the room. At one point, Mifune leans into the sunlight and is suddenly panicked:

 

iliveinfear6.jpg

 

iliveinfear7.jpg

 

He runs over to the window, which has a convincing sunball effect in the sky:

 

iliveinfear8.jpg


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 04:37 PM

Keep in mind that this movie was made and released just a year after the Bikini Atoll H-Bomb tests accidentally irradiated a Japanese fishing boat:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daigo_Fukuryū_Maru

 

"Godzilla" was made just a few months after this incident and has a scene reminiscent of this disaster.


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#4 Justin Hayward

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 09:30 PM

I've forwarded this to a handful of my filmmaker friends.  Great post, David, as usual.  


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#5 D.J. Lynch

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 12:44 AM

I'm one of Justin's filmmaker friends.

 

Good stuff.  The thing that strikes me is when you mention how there's so many actors all crammed into the frame at once and many times they're blocked from view, but the staging is so well done that we see things at the right time.  I face a similar issue as a re-recording mixer.  Many times in a shot or sequence of shots there are several sound elements all happening at the same time.  Several actors are talking over each other and maybe there's some movement or action that grabs the audience's attention but ultimately a line of dialog is the primary focus of the moment (or the director thinks it is).  I try to mix the soundtrack just like good staging; to get the audience to pay attention to certain things at the right moments while still giving them the impression of hearing everything at once.  It's very easy when the blocking, camera work, lighting, acting, and then editing all contribute to setting that up.  It's a real struggle when they don't, or are doing things that are unknowingly drawing the audience's attention away from what's important.  And many times filmmakers aren't aware that it's not working until they get to the sound mix and the realization sets in that they can't hear the important line of dialog at the same time that the truck is crashing into the wall.  What looked visually dynamic is now a mess of clashing visual and audio ideas.  As with all good filmmaking it's amazing to see such a complicated scene as the one above put together so masterfully that ultimately it just seems so simple, or real.


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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 07:00 AM

Keep in mind that this movie was made and released just a year after the Bikini Atoll H-Bomb tests accidentally irradiated a Japanese fishing boat:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daigo_Fukuryū_Maru

 

"Godzilla" was made just a few months after this incident and has a scene reminiscent of this disaster.

 

Your posting about this reminded me of "Mount Fuji in Red" from the Dreams series by Arkia Kurosawa:

 

 

I think the movie must have been a bit autobiographical if he was having such strange dreams on the subject.

Clearly Mr Kurosawa was quite paranoid about the dangers of nuclear power which is absurd. I mean what could possibly go wrong? Such installations have many safeguards against human error.

 

I think Mr Kurosawa was probably worried that it would be himself they would come and take away for crazy ideas.

 

Freya


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#7 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 11 September 2015 - 12:30 AM

Sometimes I watch these old deep focus films shot in an age of slower film stocks and I wonder how the actors weren't drenched in sweat, considering how much light must have been pouring onto them.


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 September 2015 - 12:39 AM

Maybe that's why Kurosawa has set a number of his movies in a heat wave, including this one...  "High and Low" was also set during a heat wave, and I think the early movie "Stray Dog" was.

 

In the biography, an actor on "The Bad Sleep Well" said that he was so nervous and the set was so hot that he thought he was going to throw up in the scene.  Another mentions that Mifune had to do an elaborate fast sword fight against several people in "Sanjuro" under lights that were so hot that the actor was worried about Mifune's wardrobe catching fire, not to mention that it was exhausting for Mifune.


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