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Ikiru ("to live")is a Kurosawa film devoid of samurai or Toshiro Mifune. It is an oddity in his canon, neither an adaptation, nor an epic, or even a detective story. Instead, it is the simple and touching story of the last months of the life of a man, Watanabbe, public official, who decides to give a meaning to his life by transcending the obtuse and stiff mind of government bureaucracy to get a small public children's park built. As a parable for the soulless workings of modern bureaucracy, the goal is set pretty high, and Kurosawa goes even further, giving this story a lot of character, frequent humor, life and, most of all, heart. And going beyond the strengths of the direction and script, is the central performance by Takashi Shimura (later Kambei in Seven Samurai). Shimura gives his character such a transparently good heart and such great pain that every second of Watanabe's plight and struggle tugs at your heart, not in an overwhelmingly sentimental manner, but in one than feels honest and pure. If even many hardened souls will be drawn to tears, it is not for pity, but, admirably, because of envy for Watanabe's beautiful human dignity in the end, and for a film to have such power is beyond pure accomplishment, as the need to see this and, more importantly, feel it, goes beyond pure necessity...
Kanji Watanabi is a quiet, melancholy man who has spent all his life
behind his office desk doing sweet eff-all. When he is diagnosed with
stomach cancer he realizes that he has been petty much dead his whole
life, and searches desperately for away to live again.
This is Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, yes, even better than Rashomon and The Seven Samauri. It is a perfect true story of everybody's life- how we don't even realize we have it until we know it will be over in a short while. Watanabi's quest for self-discovery is one of the greatest from any motion picture ever made. The all-too-true paradox is one to end all paradoxes- that Watanabi is dead, and had been all his life, until he realized he was sick, which is when he began living for the first time. Takashi Shimura, the actor best known for his role as the wise, bald-headed Samauri in The Seven Samauri, and the professor out of the early Godzilla films, plays Watanabi perfectly- in my mind, it's one of the greatest film performances of all time.
Not everyone will love this movie. It was made a long time ago, the main character is an old fogey, it has subtitles, and it's pretty long. Many people today, especially young kids, would find it boring. Well, let 'em. There's no need to worry about them, they'll always have Pirates of the Carribbean, they'll always have The Matrix. Leave Ikiru and films like it to the true lovers of cinema.
Probably one of the most difficult aspects a film like "Ikiru" has to
overcome is the very rough march of time. To actually find someone
these days, let's say a crowd of regular movie-goers to sit down and
watch a film about an old Japanese man dying of cancer would be too
much to ask.
Long held shots, hardly uplifting subject, to westerners very foreign. An array of reasons not to see it. And yet, once you actually start getting into the picture it doesn't let you go. Which is why it may be rightfully considered to be a classic.
Of all of Kurosawas film this is probably the one movie that works perfectly on an universal level. Because at its core it is about one of the most basic desires of human existence...namely to be able to look back on your life and say "It was worth it."
In its starch and unforgiving black-and-white form the movie records the time of one man's life in such a beautiful and yes, colorful way, that by the time the final moments of the film play out, it will be very hard for anybody not to be touched. A glorious moment in 20th century cinema, that will hopefully be preserved for decades to come.
I can safely say that I have seen no finer film than Kurosawa's true
masterpiece, Ikiru. The story of a dying petty bureaucrat in 1950's
Ikiru is as uncompromisingly honest and beautiful a film as has ever been
made on the subject of life. Kurosawa elevates a story that could have
simple melodrama to the level of masterwork with a genuine love of his
characters, and with an incredible technical direction. The film's
structure accentuates and deepens its many, many lessons on life, and the
performances, including a heartbreakingly earnest turn by Shimura are all
In short, Ikiru is easily one of the greatest works committed to film, and no discerning film aficionado should avoid experiencing it. Had Kurosawa directed only this film, it would still be enough to include him in the pantheon of the greatest storytellers who ever lived. Fortunately for us, it is simply the pinnacle of a staggeringly amazing career. It is the absolute definition of a 10/10 film.
Ikiru is a film about life. Constantly complex and thought-provoking,
although simple at the same time; it tells a story about life's limits,
how we perceive life and the fact that life is short and not to be
wasted. Our hero is Kanji Watanabe, the most unlikely 'hero' of all
time. He works in a dreary city office, where nothing happens and it's
all very meaningless. Watanabe is particularly boring, which has lead
to him being nicknamed 'The Mummy' by a fellow worker. He later learns
that he is dying from stomach cancer and that he only has six months to
live. But Watanabe has been dead for thirty years, and now that he's
learned that his life has a limit; it's time for Watanabe to escape his
dreary life and finally start living. What follows is probably the most
thoughtful analysis of life ever filmed.
Ikiru marks a departure for Akira Kurosawa, a man better known for his samurai films, but it's a welcome departure in my opinion. Kurosawa constantly refers to Watanabe as 'our hero' throughout the film, and at first this struck me as rather odd because, as I've mentioned, he's probably the least likely hero that Kurosawa has ever directed; but that's just it! This man is not a superhero samurai, but rather an ordinary guy that decides he doesn't want to be useless anymore. That's why he's 'our hero'. Kurosawa makes us feel for the character every moment he's on screen - we're sorry that he's wasted his life, and we're sorry that his wasted life is about to be cruelly cut short. However, despite the bleak and miserable facade that this movie gives out, there is a distinct beauty about it that shines through. The beauty emits from the way that Watanabe tries to redeem his life; because we feel for him and are with him every step of the way, it's easy to see why Watanabe acts in the way he does. Ikiru is a psychologically beautiful film.
It could be said that the fantastic first hour and a half is let down by a more politically based final third - and this is true. The movie needs it's final third in order to finish telling the story, but it really doesn't work as well as the earlier parts did. However, Kurosawa still delights us with some brilliant imagery and the shot of Watanabe on a swing is the most poetically brilliant thing that Kurosawa ever filmed. Together with the music and the rest of the film that you've seen so far; that picture that Kurosawa gives us is as moving as it is brilliant.
Akira Kurosawa knew how to get in touch with human nature through his
art. With his visual expressiveness and storytelling, he could pierce
through his subjects, even in his big and occasionally comical samurai
films, and find the elemental things do work. What he probably learned
off of Rashomon probably helped out with Ikiru (To Live), a story of an
old man who finds out he will die within a year, as both stories deal
with perceptions of the significance of a life spent and a life wasted.
Though that was to a different degree in Rashomon, with Ikiru Kurosawa
expands into full-on existentialism.
The old man Kanji Watanabe (in a wholly believable and often heart-breaking performance by Takashi Shimura) knows his life hasn't amounted to much as a (chief) clerk for the city. He knows he hasn't had a great kinship with his son. He's accepting his fate with a heavy soul. One of the tenets of existentialism is that there's free-will, and the responsibility to accept what is done with one's life. Kurosawa might've (as I speculate, I don't entirely know) caught onto this for his lead, and it works, especially with the little details.
Such little details, unforgettable ones, have been expounded upon by other reviewers and critics, such as the drunken, sullen singing of "Life is short, fall in love my maiden" in the bar. A scene like that almost speaks for itself and yet it's also subtle. But one scene that had me was one not too many talk about. It's when Watanabe is in the Deputy Mayor's office, asking for permission so that a park can be built. At first the Mayor ignores him, but then Watanabe begs, but not in a way that manipulates the audience for sympathy with the old man. The mayor must be sensing something in his eyes, desperate and weak, however determined, and it's something that probably most of the audience can identify with as well, even if they don't entirely identify with the character.
But aside from the emotional impact Ikiru can have on a viewer, composition-wise (with the help of Asakazu Nakai, wonderful cinematographer on less than a dozen Kurosawa films) and editing-wise the film is ahead of its time and another example of Kurosawa's intuitive eye. There are some to-tomy shots sometimes (which could be called typical via master Ozu or other), but everything appears so precise on a first viewing, so descriptive. I think I almost can't go into all of them without a repeat viewing, but there were two that are still fresh in me. The first was right as Watanabe was about to sing in the bar, and there were these bead-strings looming in front of the camera. Perhaps mysterious, but definitely evocative.
The other was when Watanabe and one of the other clerks are on a bridge during a dark part of the day. Both characters are in silhouette, and Watanabe gives an indication to the character that he will die soon. But for me, I wasn't even paying a terrible amount of attention to the words. The way the two are lit as they are, with the light in the background and darkness in the foreground, it could maybe give an indication of what Kurosawa's trying to say: we're all not in the light of life, but it doesn't have to be an entire down-ward spiral if the will is good. Whether you're into philosophy (ies) or not, Ikiru won't disappoint newcomers to Kurosawa via his action pictures. A+
A quiet, but very moving film. Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a clerk
who has been living a dull, unsatisfying life working in the government's
offices who is diagnosed with cancer and is given one year to live. He tries
to enjoy his days by picking up a former co-worker (Miki Odagiri) and taking
her out on the town. She finally convinces him that this is not the way to
spend the rest of his life. He soon realizes that he has a strong desire to
do something with his life so that it will
not have been a total waste. Therefore he begins to work in cooperation with
the people... accomplishing something that nobody in the office had the
nerve to do before.
I consider Ikiru to be Kurosawa's first truly excellent film. The story moves along very low-key and we gradually realize the power and emotion that is in this great film. Roger Ebert said of Ikiru that it is one of the few films that can actually change the way you look at life after watching it.
This film touched me in a way no other film has. Filmed in black and white
and gorgeous, both in the visuals and in how the story unfolds. Behold the
clever manner of gradually unfolding the story as people jog each other's
memories at his funeral (an obligation for them, that gradually turns into a
real eulogy). Everything is told in flashbacks: the mourners' memories
unfold naturally, as people remember what the man did and struggle to
This film I would nominate for the golden five of the century!
I first saw it in 1956 or so at a small theater in downtown Chicago. A second viewing, years later, confirmed my initial pleasure!
Being one of the Founding Fathers of Cinema, Kurosawa shines to all
directions. In his diverse oeuvre it is hard, if not impossible, to find a
Ikiru is the most humane film of this grand Humanist. Kurosawa's story telling skills are sublime, and he has surpassed himself with this movie.
The slow pace and ditto camera movements (except in the night with 'Mephistofeles' where all is logically much more frantic) enhances the story superbly. What a pity some of the nowadays public can't find the tranquility and maybe serenity to watch a gorgeous film like that. That part of the movie lovers will miss a brilliant film, that would have lingered in the mind forever...
"Ikiru" is supposedly one of Steven Spielberg's favourite films, and one can see the influence it's had on him not only in the sentimentality and the ultimate "feelgood factor" (which may be a little too extreme for some viewers, although the script never condescends), but visually, especially in the virtuoso sequence in which a reprobate leads our hero, a respectable and dull civil servant, on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo's frenzied nightlife - a masterpiece of camera placement and editing. With images throughout that will stay with you for a long time, and a terrific supporting performance by Miki Odagiri as a vivacious young "office lady", "Ikiru" is still an absolute knockout more than 50 years on.
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