Wednesday, January 02, 2008

B.W. At The Movies: Record of a Living Being

The description of Akira Kurosawa's Record of a Living Being, also known as I Live in Fear, piqued my interest. In addition to another performance by Takashi Shimura, who blew me away in Ikiru, Seven Samarai and Gojira, the plot is about an elderly man overcome by his fear of bombs and radioactivity - in a movie made in Japan just less than 10 years after Hiroshima.

Netflix dutifully delivered the DVD from "Mei Ah Laser Disc Co. Ltd." after a very long wait. My first warning was that the default subtitles were in Chinese, and I had to go back to the menu to select English.

My second warning was there was no attempt to translate the opening credits, which appeared before an interesting montage of street scenes, with many shots of streetcars and crowds. Then, finally, we zoom into a dentist's office and a dentist - Shimura - who prepares his drill for a young patient but is interrupted by a secretary who says, "Dad, your phone call."

As he walks out to take the phone, he says, "Just wait a moment. Who's calling?"

Secretary: The court.

Dentist: Forgotten.

Patient (in an adjoining chair, talking to a second, younger dentist): Calling from the court?

Younger dentist: The Medical Association promotes dad to be the committee member. To solve the family problems. Such as divorces, heritages, arguments, etc.

Patient: This is not an easy job.

Younger dentist: Dad loves to be a negotiator. I'm forced to listen to him.

Dentist (re-entering from the outer office): The court starts at 1:00 today. To spend the whole afternoon. I get troubles for myself.

I fully believe I Live in Fear is a great film, based on most of the things I've read about it. Unfortunately, this DVD is completely unwatchable for a person like me who does not understand Japanese and must depend on the English subtitles, which were written by someone who does not understand English well enough to translate coherently. I shut off the player about three minutes into the movie.

It's a bitter disappointment for me, because I've been enjoying Kurosawa's work so far. Apparently there's another DVD out there with something resembling a real translation. I hope to find it someday soon - I just wish Netflix had found it first.

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