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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A stunning cinematic work that leaves one ultimately feeling elated
having shared time with such a character as Mr. Watanabe. I had heard
about the scene on the swing prior to seeing the film. It is a
beautiful transcendental scene all the more moving as we know he has
already passed away. I think it is this reconnection with his character
after learning of his death that causes the scene to have such
emotional weight. That and the fact that he finally achieved something
with his life, finally found some purpose. It could be crushingly
sentimental in the wrong hands but Kurosawa floats the camera along
past the climbing frame as the snow falls gracefully over Watanabe as
he sings to himself in this fleeting moment of happiness.
The film has many wonderful scenes but it is the actor Takashi Shimura who steals the show. He is such a presence throughout and dominates every scene. I love the way he moves. We can feel his anxiety, his stress, his illness.
I had waited a long time to see this film. It went beyond my expectations. Due to a personal experience I connected with the plight of Watanabe and this made it all the more emotional. Quite beautiful. Interesting that Kurosawa ends the film in a negative way by saying that those who take the place of Watanabe simply fall back into their bureaucratic roles and fail to continue as he had done. They say something along the lines of his death should not be in vain, but by their inaction it is. He dies in vain but it makes Watanabe all the greater as being the one person who decided to change his dull life by doing something more. Stepping outside and seeing the day differently , the sunset, the city, nothing is the same to him. His impending death finally gives his life meaning so he no longer just simply exists. We are all guilty to some extent of this. He stops to smell the flowers and how wonderful they look and how sweet they smell.
Over the years I think I've devoted nearly half a day of my valuable
time watching and re-watching this multi-layered masterpiece. One of
its main messages to me is : what would I do in a similar position to
the protagonist of the story? Most of us belong to the wage slave class
and are in work roles utterly useless to the greater humanity, what
would we do if told we had a few months to live (disregarding the fact
that even 100 years/1200 months is an infinitesimal fraction of a
Watanabe-san is the buck-passing rubber-stamping Section Chief of the Public Affairs Dept. in City Hall, never having had a day off in 30 years until told (in a roundabout way) that he has terminal stomach cancer. He goes AWOL, does a little drinking and flirting and finally comes to the conclusion that he needs to leave something constructive behind him. It all unfolds in Kurosawa's usual inimitable fluid story-telling style he left behind a beautiful b&w Japanese film languidly but constructively dealing with terminal illness that can still hook people in to this day. Favourite bits: In the bar where Watanabe-san mournfully groans out his requested song Life Is Brief to the suddenly electrified patrons and us; the stark contrast between him and his confused state and the young and healthy flibbertigibbet he spends a few days with; the flashbacks of him doggedly pursuing his pet project at City Hall; the culmination of everything on the playground swing at 11:00 pm on a snowy night. No good doing that here the park would be full of losers instead of winners like him.
To the impatient I suppose it would be pretty slow at times, but in the hands of this particular Master I wouldn't have minded it lasting another hour. Beautiful, poignant, elegant, thoughtful, wistful, powerful and imho not Kurosawa's best either! In other words, a film other directors would die for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most summaries of this film fail to mention its savage indictment of
the hierarchical, hidebound, and bureaucratic nature of Japanese
society. (A manage, awaiting promotion, is reminded that he has to wait
for several other managers to die.) It is this bureaucracy that has
made Watanabe into a useless drone; in earlier life, he had energy and
hopes. At the end of the film, officials at his funeral argue about who
should get credit for the park; it is only the common people who
understand that Watanabe made it happen.
There are memorable images in the film. The opening sequence of the bureaucratic runaround is brilliant, with the Department of Pest Control being shown as a man with a flyswatter. And, in the restaurant, when Mr Watanabe, having realized how he can at last live, staggers downstairs, a chorus of young women above sing "Happy Birthday"; of course, they are singing to a young friend coming upstairs into the shot. The film's final shot has (a resurrected?) Watanabe looking down (from Heaven?) with satisfaction at the completed park.
The majority of film directors seem to have more trouble getting to
grip with directing emotion than they do with acting, and often ability
to convey poignancy is a sign of a director's maturity. Kurosawa
however fully developed the emotional content of his pictures with
Ikiru before he became a fully fledged master of the action genre with
1954's Seven Samurai.
Ikiru is one of many great films in which an at-first-glance dull, faceless character is humanised and made sympathetic. Similar examples include William Wyler's Dodsworth, in which Walter Huston's ageing factory owner is rejuvenated by romance, and of course Welles' Citizen Kane, which also resembles Ikiru due to its flashback structure. These films set themselves monumental tasks, but they end up all the more powerful for the depth they give to apparently shallow characters. Ikiru sets up this conundrum from the start, announcing the dowdy bureaucrat as "our hero" and informing the audience that "whatever we say about him now would be dreary" but that soon he will really begin to live.
Kurosawa, who co-scripted all his films, created one of his most finely crafted stories with Ikiru. By showing us early on flashbacks of Watanabe's disintegrating relationship with his son Mitsuo, the audience is emotionally drawn into his life. What really works though is Kurosawa's ability to construct scenes and shots with such respect for both subject and audience. He is of course aided greatly here by what must surely be a career best performance from Takashi Shimura.
Sometimes naïve viewers dismiss Kurosawa as a sappy sentimentalist, and even some of his fans dislike Ikiru for similar reasons. But these people are missing the significance, not to mention the skill involved in making a work of sentimentality. It's true that Kurosawa would overdo his humane touch years later with Red Beard, but Ikiru is note perfect, and the sentimental side of the plot is nicely ballanced out by the satirical comedy on bureaucracy.
For the final word, as with so many Kurosawa films Ikiru ends with a simple yet brilliant image of optimism. We finish with two children playing on swings in the playground; they jump off when their mother calls them indoors, and Kurosawa holds for a few more seconds on the swings going back and forth an apt and poignant metaphor for an individual's work living on after they have died.
It is unfortunate that Japanese television calls to mind overly elaborate mecha battles and bizarre scenes of tentacle monsters, for this film portrays an altogether different side of Japanese cinema. It tells the simple tale of a dying man, Watanabe, and how he reacts to the news of terminal stomach cancer over the course of several months. Despite its serious premise, Ikiru balances sorrow with clever touches of humor, such as an early scene demonstrating effectively the bureaucracy at which Watanabe works. Those expecting the rapid and action-packed style of modern films will no doubt find it slow and even ponderous at points, but I believe it hearkens back effectively to the days before movies driven fancy special effects and action at every turn.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I give the movie a 12 of 10. I feel "the power of movies" from it.
From the runarounds scene in the beginning, I had an anticipation of a very exciting movie. The runarounds look exaggerated, but each of the excuses officials make when they forward a petition to other section is well considered and compelling. You can imagine the background where the lead character Watanabe, acted by Shimura Takashi, had been promoted to the section manager with his belief of "Do nothing".
The plot is simple and clear. No discrepancy. And great sense of humor throughout the movie. Yet, the theme is very serious. In fact, the narrator says, "In his life, nothing has ever been more serious than his acts in this period", and the audiences get drown seriously.
The performance of Odagiri Miki as Watanabe's young female subordinate shines. It is compelling that Watanabe badly wanted to be with her, and that he was eventually inspired to rise up. The performance through the expressions of Odagiri and Shimura is outstanding.
Since he is convinced he had a cancer, He confesses "I see nothing but darkness ahead of me. I struggle and run amok, still I have nothing to grab. I see only you", with joyful background music. "Before I die, even only a day, I want to do something, which I don't know yet". But after a while he says, "I can do something, something I can ...". It looks as if Shimura is watching straight at his own death, rather than acting. Then, he stands up determined when another group of people sing "Happy Birthday" as if they congratulate him.
The long scene of lyke-wake is impressive too. In the beginning people ignore Watanabe's contribution when the city office changed a ditch to a children's play-park. But after the Deputy Mayor leaves, gradually people recognize that Watanabe was the primary driving force of the project, and eventually all of pledge to become true civil servants. The screenplay of this process is so well organized that it reminds "12 Angry Men".
But the next day, no one dares to keep the decision, and they return to ordinary life of languish officers. Only the youngest officer, Kimura, acted by Himori Shin-ichi, is different. The spirit of Watanabe left in him though not visibly. He stops by the park and watches the children playing in the park. Every time he feels defeated in the city office, he will visit the park.
This film takes a different path from other classic Kurosawa's films.
It sets in modern daily life instead of ancient Japan. But it deeply
touches my heart, prompting me to reflect on my lifestyle.
I have recently written an article about "Ikiru" for a church's magazine. The first half is truly amazing. I was initially bored by the second half. But after some deep reflections, the second half actually vaults "Ikiru" into the ranks of classics. It does not only criticize bureaucracy, but it tells us that a meaningful life is not based on other people's praises and recognitions. Only one worker among Watanabe's colleagues appreciate his work and spirit. Regardless, Watanabe experiences fulfillment and joy even without any appreciations.
We often wish to be glorified when we accomplish great tasks. But "Ikiru" teaches the opposite. We really live when we enrich life albeit one individual or a small community. Kurosawa calls us to serve people selflessly without seeking personal glory in the second half. Meanwhile, bureaucracy will continue to swarm and swallow people.
I do not think that "Ikiru" is about life and death. Rather, "Ikiru" discusses how we live meaningful lives every day. Watanabe's terminal cancer motivates him to search a meaning for his life. I hope that "Ikiru", instead of death, prompts us to discover our lives' goals.
"Ikiru" deserves to be one of Kurosawa's classic or even a classic or all time. When I reflect on the movie, my tears of admiration drop every time. I purchased the Criterion Edition shortly after I had viewed it in rental. It has become one of my favourite films in my collection.
Ikiru is a classic piece of cinema about a man who starts "to live"
when he finds out that his days are soon over, directed by non other
than the great Akira Kurosawa.
"Ikiru" is a tragedy about a man named Kanji Watanabe (Shimura), who works as a bureaucrat. Kanji spends his whole working life doing nothing, just like his colleagues, and finds out one day that he has stomach cancer and will die in few days. Knowing that life will end very soon, he tries to live.
"Ikiru" is very radical in its style of narrative, for its time. The film starts with a third person narrative, that tell us about the character's situation, It simplify the story, so we don't have too use to much time, or put too much effort, to get into the protagonist's dilemma. Another example is a scene where we see how the officers reply the people who come in with questions and complaints. The scenes are shot in a very "documentary" sort of way, where it looks like that the officers are replying to the same question, a technique later used in documentary shows.
The plot of the film is new for it's time, and starts right on the subject. The script is a bit confusing though, because the story focus on the character, and then goes to the world he is living in, where it makes you think that it changed it's focus to the "system", on the society, and not this particular individual, and then it comes back to the protagonist. It gives the character more dept and makes him more real, that makes sense, until a part of the film ,where it jumps back to the society again. Other than that, the sequences are set chronologically in order , with a few flashbacks that gives the protagonist, and other characters a lot of development. It gives us a better understanding of relationships between the individual characters.
The cinematography, and usage of the camera gives a lot development and dept to the protagonist, and his situation. Throughout the film there are several close-ups, and extreme-close-up-shots, of Kanji. Showing us his facial expression, that shows depression, emptiness, illness, loneliness, and delivers an overall tragic feel. An example is during a conversation with a female colleague at a restaurant. The film also have a scene, just after he finds out about his illness, where shots fades into each other to create a disturbed atmosphere, this effect is used by other directors in later films, an example is the opening scene of 1980s, "Tetsou" by Shinya Tsukamoto. The flashback scenes are very clear, again thanks to the cinematography, where the picture dissolve to the flashback, Visually the story is easy to follow.
Most of the characters in this film are " types ", instead of individuals, for example you got the "happy girl", "the mean boss", "the selfish son" , and so on. The characters are developed in a very "Henrik Ibsen" sort of way (a famous Scandinavian dramatist). The actors portrayed the roles very well, but the only well developed character is the protagonist. Takashi Shimura, who portrays Kanji Watanabe, menages to express Kanji's feelings through facial expressions. Because the character itself talks very unclear. That gives us a disturbing feeling of, that this man can't express his pain. The character is so real, that we actually sympathize with him. Antoher impressive thing with his character is how he develops through the film. Everything from his voice to his ability to talk, gives us an view of his condition. Shimura's acting was also appreciated internationally, and he was nominated for BAFTA award for best foreign actor (1952). The cast of this film is seen in almost every Kurosawa film, to name up a few examples : Seiji Miyaguchi, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Kato, Isao Kimura, Katamari Fujiwara, Takashi Shimura etc., but their roles are very different from the other films, that underlines their versatility, and is maybe the reason why Kurosawa works with them frequently.
The setting is very different from Kurosawa's atmospheric samurai films, that made him so famous. The story is set in a "westernized" Tokyo. Everything from the characters's clothes and hairstyles, to the music they listen to, and the clubs they go to, is pretty western. An example is a scene, where Kanji, visits a club, the girls are wearing western skirts, are listening to jazz, and dancing in a way like they did in the US, back in the 50s. In a early interview with Kurosawa, he mentioned that one of his autheurs in his films are "the theme itself" ( Ref. "Reading A Japanese Film: Cinema In Contex", by Keiko I.McDonald ). A question, that "Why can't people live happy together"?. He claimed that this question is raised in all of his films, there are "places", in this film as well, where this question is raised, an example on that is, the relationship between Kanji, and his son.
Overall the film offers some wonderful effects, and great performances, and an interesting plot, on the contrary side, the focus of the film is a bit unclear, what or who, it is about. The protagonist or the society he is living in?
This film is a mature masterpiece which fulfils the true function of Art-to reflect the mystery of Life and Living back to You. Enough Said-Go See this modern Memento Mori. Yours, Avi
Kurosawa tells story with timeless arguments, people having their success, choices and failures within society. As his style is, Kurosawa paints excellent pictures towards viewer about humanity, beaurocracy and values of human life. This movie must be viewed with though, and it will raise ones, too. Most moving and entertaining story.
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