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Record of a Living Being: Drama vs Satire, with a dose of Dr. Strangelove

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    I was watching Dr. Strangelove last week, and I was reminded that Kubricks film was originally intended as a serious drama. While of course Record started out as a satire and went in the opposite direction when making a film on the same topic.

    I’ve always found it curious that someone like Kubrick, who showed absolutely zero sense of humour in any of his films, should go and make what in my opinion is one of the funniest films ever made. While Kurosawa wasn’t, as we know, a great comedy film maker, he was perfectly capable directing funny scenes and light hearted films, and from my reading, seems to have had a droll sense of humour in his real life.

    I’ve no real conclusions to draw from this, but I would be interested to know if anyone has read something to indicate what type of satire Record would have been if Kurosawa had gone in that direction?



    Kubrick is hard to explain, no one else has even exhibited his characteristics and abilities. But I’ll try-while Dr, Strangelove is a comedy, I don’t think it necessary was so for Kubrick. The topic matter, the documentary like shooting, and overall statement, maintains the move as a drama. It is of course rather funny, but I think done so more in aim that Kubrick can dive in deep, dealing with serious topics, but still offer assurance and relaxation to the audience. By saying, it’s a comedy, look at this scene, hear this dialog. Kubrick protects himself and movie from attack, and audience fear, despite a remaining clear, realistic, and important message, one rather uncomfortable for the time- military leaders are incompetent, nobody can win, world destruction is likely.

    I don’t really know what to say about Kurosawa, he was dealing with a very different audience and time period however.

    The cold-war, was sort of a distant concept, the general public didn’t really understand it, government did well at suppressing it, overall it effected few people. The cold-war in some degree became stylized and glamorized, had Kubrick made it too real, he risk many negative elements the audience did not want to accept, or even understand, even if all realistic.

    While Record, plays on nearly the same idea, the Japanese unlike the rest of the world, did understand it from previous events. Many people were effected by it, were still effected by it, and there too was many elements of reminders, the largest being impoverished Japan, and American forces.

    Trying to play around, joke around with such a strong truth, likely wouldn’t work too well. I don’t think you can effectively satire something that really did happen already, especially as one can easily imagine the repercussion of reoccurring, as the events of past still linger about.

    If this naturally shifted Kurosawa into a drama, or he recognized, similar to Kubrick the dangers of going the wrong way-I don’t know.

    All I do know, had Kubrick gone too serious, and Kurosawa gone too playfully, both would have bad films, and risk some negative feedback from the audience.

    I think both were smart enough to recognize this occurring.

    It’s important to think of this films from within the correct time periods. As today a serious movie about bombs, really doesn’t create a uneasy feeling, or a joking movie about bombs doesn’t insult. So what I say plays no active role anymore, and too nowadays movies about mass death are common, and done so as entertainment often.

    Back then, they were far more serious and rare. To some degree death in modern movies hold no value, a bit of desensitizing perhaps. I’m not sure such worries that Kubrick and Kurosawa may of considered are necessary now.


    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: I would be interested to know if anyone has read something to indicate what type of satire Record would have been if Kurosawa had gone in that direction?

    I don’t think anyone knows, or even knew at the time. From what I have read, it seems to me that even Kurosawa himself couldn’t answer that question. In Richie, for instance, he is quoted as saying:

    We decided … that a satire would be the best way of saying what we wanted to. This followed more or less what I had wanted to do — make a satire. But how do you make a satire on the H-bomb? This was the problem I kept running into when I tried to write the script. … t was very hard to keep it satirical … [At the end of the day,] the way we felt — how could we have made a satire? (109)

    It seems to me that Record of a Living Being as a satire was, in the end, nothing more than a concept that they could never force the story into.

    As for Dr. Strangelove, I totally agree with Jeremy. I would also add that most of Kubrick’s films are in my view similarly satiric/sarcastic, while dealing with equally serious topics. In Strangelove the satire just is less subtle, not least because of Peter Sellers and, as Jeremy mentioned, the subject matter needed it at the time.



    I once thought that Strangelove was maybe intended to be more bleak and harsh, but that Sellers (and he does seem to have improvised the funniest scenes) made it into more of a laugh out loud comedy. But the interviews on the dvd extras show that Kubrick seems to have more or less conned George Scott into camping up his role – Scott wanted to play the air force general much more ‘straight’ and menacing.

    But its a good point by Jeremy that nuclear annihalation was a little too close in the memory for the Japanese for it to be suitable for satire.

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