Watched: May 28 2017
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Miki Odagiri, Nobuo Kaneko, Shinichi Himori
Runtime: 2h 23min
Kanji Watanabe (Shimura) is a small cog in the great wheel of Japanese bureaucracy. He’s been feeling a bit under the weather and goes to see his doctor. After a less than encouraging meeting with another patient in the hospital waiting room, Watanabe’s doctor tells him the exact lies his fellow patient warned him of, and he realises he only has a short time left on this earth.
With a death sentence hanging over his head, ungrateful children plotting to take his money, an unfulfilling job, a dead wife, a wasted life, and no tools to connect with his son or express his emotions, Watanabe stops going to work and starts drinking. He spends a night out with a novelist he meets, but drinking and partying does little to lift his spirits.
After his first experiment fails, he starts to spend time with a former underling from work – the young and vivacious Toyo (Odagiri). He asks her to teach him how to enjoy life – he wants his last few months to have meaning, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen – and she tells him that her new job making toys is bringing her joy. This gives Watanabe an idea – to help a group of lobbying parents clean up a cesspool in their neighbourhood and make a playground. Finally, the bureaucrat makes things happen.
Ikiru is beautiful and haunting, and we loved it (despite its lack of samurai). It’s a long feature, but it flies by, and one cannot help but be drawn in by the intriguing actors and the very human plot. Watanabe has to get a death sentence in order to start living, and unfortunately this is true for so many people. In a society where people’s worth is determined by their ability to adapt to and contribute to the system, Watanabe manages to use the system to form his legacy. However, he needs the push of his impending death in order to start doing something with his position.
An intriguing, beautiful and heart breaking drama and an interesting view into post-war Japanese bureaucracy and society, this is one of those films everyone should watch at some point in their lives. Not as famous (at least in Norway) as many of Kurosawa’s other films, we’re glad it was added to the list, otherwise it probably would have flown under our radar and we’re glad we watched it. It actually made us feel something in our cold, dead hearts.
What we learned: Live while you can, love your work and make a difference.
Next time: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)