(Japanese Title: Ikimono no kiroku)
(Alternate English Title: What The Birds Knew)
(1955 - Japan)
With Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Eiko Miyoshi
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB 

Toshiro Mifune IS Mr. Magoo in BUS RIDE TO HELL!     One of Kurosawa's most personal movies, RECORD OF A LIVING BEING suffers from a lack of story.  Toshiro Mifune plays Kiichi Nakajima, a foundry owner living in fear of dying from an atomic bomb or radiation.  His fear consumes him so much that he wants to move his whole family to Brazil, but is blocked from any action by their court injunctions.  Without any avenue of escape, he slowly descends into madness.

     And that's pretty much the whole story, which runs close to two hours.  An almost unrecognizable Mifune does a fine job conveying Nakajima's madness, but is not allowed to reveal anything else about the character or his past.  Two years prior, Kurosawa made IKIRU, a similar film about an older man trapped inside his own anxieties, but in that film, we were allowed to know Kanji Watanabe, played by Takashi Shimura.  IKIRU showed a complete, although fragmented, picture of one man's life.  All we know about Nakajima is that he fears the bomb. It's not enough. This might sound blasphemous to fans of Mifune, but it might have worked better if the older and subtler Shimura were allowed to play the lead in this film.  But after SEVEN SAMURAI, Mifune was the star in Japan, which is likely why Kurosawa cast him as the lead and relegated Shimura to a smaller part.  Yet it is Shimura who comes off as the more sympathetic figure as a local member of the medical board who follows Nakajima's journey into madness.

    RECORD OF A LIVING BEING is not really a misfire - Kurosawa did exactly what he wanted to do with this film - but it is one of his least accessible works, despite the important topic, and definitely not the place to start if you are new to Kurosawa. ½ - JB

Akira Kurosawa     Toshiro Mifune     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


"Why can't you say some mature words?  You only peep on my assets!  All are not loyal!"
---- bad subtitles on a Hong Kong DVD of RECORD OF A LIVING BEING

     This is the first time I experienced Kurosawa on something other than a Criterion DVD release, and my review may be skewed due to the unpleasantness of having to follow a story through horrendous subtitles.  Along with the quote above, I noted these unique turns of phrase:  "Say something!  Don't look like a man!" and one that should be inducted to the Bad Subtitle Hall of Fame immediately: "Chung wanted to find a piece of peace land on earth.  In South America.  Planned to migrate to Basil."  After seeing this film presented so horribly, I will not review another Kurosawa film from this company.  Nor will I ever migrate to Basil. - JB

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Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee