My last entry saw Toshiro Mifune as an old man suffering under the weight of paranoia. In this entry, we see a completely different side of his acting ability. In Scandal, he plays an earnest and handsome painter. If you were to put I Live in Fear and Scandal next to each other, you would not be able to tell that the lead characters were played by the same actor. I believe that Mifune would be very proud of this fact.
Ichiro Aoye decides one day to go up in the mountains of Japan and paint there. While painting, a woman stumbles upon him. She has missed a bus and now has to walk a far way to her lodging. Aoye offers to give her a ride to the hotel. We learn from the paparazzi in the lobby of the hotel that this woman is a famous opera singer, Miyako Saijo. The paparazzi take a picture of Aoye and Saijo on the balcony of her hotel room. This is slapped on the front page of an Amour magazine and a story is fabricated that they are lovers, even though they clearly are not. Aoye threatens to sue the paper. An old lawyer, down on his luck, stops by his studio and offers his services. This lawyer, played by Takashi Shimura, seems to believe in the cause, but it is easy to see that he will get a lot of press for the taking the case. After Aoye tries to visit him and finds his sick and lovely young daughter, he decides to take this old and naive lawyer on. They mount a case, but the slimy magazine owner gets his claws into the lawyer’s back. He bribes the lawyer and the case becomes an uphill battle in court that they are sure to lose. Aoye is aware of what is written on the wall, but he believes that the lawyer with a daughter so kind would turn around and do what is right again.
Just like every other Kurosawa movie, this film is more than its surface. It focuses not just on how a celebrity obsessed culture can turn even the most innocent of pictures into something scandalous, but also how that same culture can take a naive lawyer and turn him into a double crosser. Shimura seems to degrade himself in service of his character. He blubbers, rambles, gets drunk and begs for forgiveness from everyone but continues to do the bidding of the antagonist. Aoye’s faith seems to not only be misplaced but also to be sort of arcane in this world of surface. It is not until the very end do we realize that given the chance people will do the right thing.