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Ikiru More at IMDbPro »

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Pure Movie Magic

Author: rocksnotdead1 from United States
13 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***


The little man in Ikiru is simply one of cinema's most memorable characters. I don't cry in many movies (not even Schindler's List), but this one made me weep like a little baby. Kurosawa brings human emotion to the forefront in Ikiru, making us all sympathize with Watanabe. The final scene in which he swings in his newly made sunset just hours before his death, amidst raindrops and singing "Life is Short" is in my opinion, the greatest scene ever filmed.

Takashi Shimura gives the performance of a lifetime as Watanabe. The close-ups of his face are some of the most moving still images ever put onto the screen.

I think that this is a movie that is so emotionally engaging and powerful that it could actually change a person's life.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:


Author: seventhsamurai1954 from United States
4 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As a person that can boast about having seen over 3,000 films, I have to say that Ikiru ranks up there in the top five. It is a story about a man that has to face what most humans fear to even talk about the most: death. It is his journey to cherish the last days of his life that he felt he took for granted all these years. Ikiru is only one of two films that I have ever cried to. Kurasawa makes you feel for this man with the greatest empathy. He takes you into the movie and really makes you question what life is all about and the importance of it. I close this review by saying this: if you only have to see five films in your entire life, let Ikiru be one of them.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Ikiru: In death, one learns to live

Author: bjcwrite-1 from United States
24 July 2005

"Ikiru" is Akira Kurosawa's greatest film. Ikiru in Japanese means "to live."

And the film tells the story of a man who, upon learning he is terminally ill, doesn't just realize he has lead a meaningless life — but that he hasn't lived at all — a story of a man who begins to live only after he learns he is dying.

The first part of the film shows us Watanabe's "life" before, and after, he learns he has stomach cancer, and has only three months to live. He realizes he has never really lived.

The film informs us that Watanabe thrashing his way through empty efforts to live, to find some meaning to his life. At the end of the film's first half, he finally sees something that opens his eyes to how he must spend his remaining days.

The film then takes us to its second half — which begins at a wake held in honor of the late Kanji Watanabe. The rest of the story, how Watanabe spent his remaining days, is told in the flashback recollections of Watanabe's former workmates.

Ikiru opens with Watanabe, a widower, at work stamping papers in his dreary civil servant job at Tokyo City Hall. He hasn't missed a day of work in 30 years, and never takes vacations. He lives with his callous son, and his inheritance-obsessed daughter-in-law.

The film begins with a group of women arriving at his department to complain about a cesspool in their neighborhood. They want it filled so the site won't be a health hazard; it should be filled in so the site can be a playground for their children. Watanabe dismissively tells them they must take their problem to the engineering department. Off they go, shuffled from department to department until they end up back at Watanabe's department, empty-handed.

When Watanabe discovers he is terminally ill, he fails to show up for work. No one at the office sees him for days.

He wanders the streets, until one night he is at a bar and begins to talk to a novelist about his fading life. The young man takes Watanabe on a tour of Tokyo's night spots. Maybe a little frivolity is the missing ingredient in Watanabe's life.

At one of these places, Watanabe kills the festive atmosphere when the piano player asks for song requests. Watanabe mumbles that he wants to hear an old song, "Life is Brief."

As the pianist plays the sedate, lovely, tune, Watanabe tearfully sings the song:

Life is brief, Fall in love, maidens; Before the crimson bloom, Fades from your lips; Before the tides of passion, Cool within you; For those of you, Who knows no tomorrow.

It is a beautiful scene, which will be revisited in a different, more memorable way near the end of the film.

Night turns into morning, and Watanabe doesn't want to have another night on the town. He then encounters a young girl who used to work at his office, and they eat lunch.

He begins to spend a lot of time with her, and is able to laugh with her hoping part of her liveliness will rub off on him. However, the girl tires of the dour old man, but agrees to meet him for one more dinner. Watanabe tells the girl he is dying and was hoping he could somehow discover from her how to live.

During the dinner, she does something that gives Watanabe his breakthrough. He now knows what he must do. He goes back to his office, and digs out the proposal to fix the cesspool and build a park at the site. He immediately takes the proposal to another city department to shepherd the proposal to completion.

Next, the movie takes us to the wake, where we learn the park was completed. The women who stormed city hall at the beginning of the film arrive to mourn for Watanabe. And they really mourn, while the opportunistic deputy mayor — who tried to kill the park proposal, then later took credit for it — silently watches. Tellingly, the women have nothing to say to the deputy mayor or the other city officials present.

Kurosawa's camera focuses close-up on face after face, the embarrassed expression on the face of each city official reveals they know the truth they won't admit: It is Watanabe who deserves credit for building the park.

Later, Watanabe's former co-workers debate his dogged dedication to building the park. The officials, by now drunk, recall his final successful struggle to create the park, but cynically misinterpret everything he did.

The fact that they fail to grasp the simple kindness of Watanabe that redeems his otherwise wasted, unhappy life underscores something the funeral party does not comprehend: that Watanabe, not any of them, was the true victor and happy man.

The last person to see Watanabe alive, a policeman on patrol, comes to the wake to honor Watanabe. Watanabe's body was found in the park the night before. But the policeman describes, what seemed to him, an eerie site.

The film's last flashback shows us what he saw: Watanabe is at the park late at night, using the park's swing set while snow gently falls on him. While slowly swinging, he sings "Life is Brief." This scene is one of the most beautiful, memorable experiences in all of cinema. Try watching it without tears welling up in your eyes.

Ikiru is a masterpiece -- It doesn't call attention to itself. It is only afterward that Ikiru's brilliance becomes plain — the perfection of style and the dignity and sorrow of Shimura's acting.

By Brian Cole

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Don't Take My Word For It

Author: ppesa from United States
18 July 2005

It's hard to find the words to make someone ready to see something you love without revealing your own pomposity. To put it another way, you can damn with hyperbole just as surely as you can with faint praise. And I really don't want to do that to this movie, because it's amazingly well done, definitely worth seeing, and you'll be a better person if I don't turn you off before you scour the library and independent video outlets for it. So if, like me, you're the sort of counter-dependent brat who revels in ignoring advice that isn't your own, please rent the movie just to prove what an ass I am.

For the rest of you who don't use your late fees to prove you cultural sophistication, I'd nonetheless recommend using extended rental policies to see this one a few times. Admittedly, I haven't seen this movie since my VHS days, so the DVD might include the usual goodies that I have no business commenting on. I'll poach off another commenter here and describe Ikiru as a movie about a life almost unlived, and how we find real reasons to overcome the inertial slide to death. Watanabe is the sort of bureaucrat that makes Kafka look like Schwartenegger, and his tentative walking coma at the movie's outset still resonates among those of us making our living in cubicle farms, whacking computer keys like lab rats for our paycheck-pellet rewards.

The news that he's dying forces Watanabe into a painful contemplation of the life he's wasted, and the scenes that reveal his back-story are touching and human. When I saw Watanabe's anguish in his doctors' wait room, I was reminded of the pediatrician's office I visited as a child. And when Watanabe's young son humiliates him with embarrassed shame at the boy's baseball game, I felt the guilt a son feels when he doesn't honor his father. When Watanabe finally decides to act, we are moved by his humble desperation to feel alive.

I'd agree with other commenters that the final third of the film is a bit stilted; considering the subject matter, however, we can hardly fault Kurosawa for being accurate. Furthermore, I'd rather not take any of the slow, subtle joy you'll get out of this movie by endlessly pontificating about it. Go see it, and if you're not the dork I am, tell others about it too.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Pure genius

Author: jebous from New Hampshire
2 February 2004

The film's structure alone is masterful. The storytelling techniques used by Kurosawa are still unmatched. Also worth mentioning is the acting-Shimura Takashi proves himself as one of the greatest actors of all time with his portrayal of Watanabe Kanji. You may recognize him from his role as the wise leader Kambei in Shichinin no Samurai, but this is his greatest achievement. Several of Kurosawa's core group of actors are also in this movie, such as Fujiwara Kamatari. I would recommend this film not only for film buffs, but for anyone interested in powerful, intelligent cinema.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

"Life is brief ..."

Author: FilmSnobby from San Diego
13 January 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This Kurosawa favorite veers awfully close to *Now, Voyager* territory; to "Beaches" territory; to *Love Story* territory. In the final analysis, a director -- even the greatest one who ever lived -- is never so manipulative as when he chooses a cancer victim for the subject of his film. We all know someone who has, or has had, cancer, and we all know just how horrible it can be for those it strikes. Therefore, Kurosawa has already plunged the knife in our hearts from the first frame, which shows us an X-ray of our protagonist's cancerous stomach. All Kurosawa has to do from here on out is twist the handle.

Thankfully, the director listened to the wise counsel of co-writer Hideo Oguni, who insisted on having the main character die -- unseen -- a little more than half-way through the film . . . thereby setting up what is perhaps the greatest 45 minutes in all of cinema: Watanabe's Wake, With Flashbacks. To tell the truth, this "second part" of *Ikiru* stands completely on its own merits, and would by any reckoning rank as the greatest "short" feature film ever made. Which is not to say that there wasn't any great stuff in the preceding hour and fifteen minutes. Believe me, there's great stuff. However, there's also a lot of maudlin stuff. Put it this way: one thoroughly sympathizes with a young woman who exclaims to Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), "There's that long face again!" Kurosawa frankly overdoes the closeups of actor Shimura's face, which is half hangdog, half agonized. It's also half comical, after a while. And while I can dig the verisimilitude of Watanabe's incoherent mutterings and unfinished phrases (he always says, "What I mean to say is . . ." but he never finishes the sentence), that doesn't mean that the whole thing isn't slightly irritating. The film finally threatens to become downright bad when Kurosawa zooms in on Shimura as he sings a sappy old Japanese love song from the turn of the century: the hushed voice trembles, the tears spill.

<SPOILERS THROUGH THE REST OF THE REVIEW> Yes, enough is enough . . . but perhaps we required this nadir of maudlin despair for us (and Watanabe, for that matter) to bounce back and re-engage us. Kurosawa masterfully raises the stakes with each set-piece that follows, until the last time we see him alive he's back at his civil service job, heading off to survey a site for a recreational park. "You can do anything, if you put your minds to it!" he declares to his dubious subordinates. And then, CUT!

He's dead, and we're at his wake. Kurosawa, who loved American-style detective fiction, proceeds to give us a mystery, of sorts: was Watanabe REALLY responsible for the city's beloved new park? and if so, how did he manage it? AND did he know about his stomach cancer, or was it unexpected? what accounted for his odd yet heroic behavior during the last months of his life? The rest of the narrative is related via flashback by Watanabe's various co-workers and subordinates. Of course, the "proper" thing for a critic to say is that we should NEVER be in doubt early on, as to whether or not Watanabe made the park possible. But the first time I saw this, I had been put off by the sentimentality just enough to where I questioned the whole thing, and had thought how funny it would've been if this little bureaucrat had been forced to rely on his dreadful "colleagues" to finally accomplish something worthwhile in his life. The fact is, I can't tolerate saints. (Oh well, I guess I'm not a very nice person.) But the wonder of this sequence comes from the exceedingly witty manner in which Watanabe's feats are told and retold during the increasingly drunken wake. The little old man, at least in the memory of his fellow bureaucrats, disproves the adage that you Can't Fight City Hall. The crescendo of the wake sequence, followed by the sober-light-of-morning denouement, are together ruefully true-to-life.

A final observation: I don't think *Ikiru* is as "existential" as some critics have made it out to be. Watanabe in the end makes a tangible difference in the world he leaves behind. That park EXISTS in the Real World. Kurosawa was a HUMANIST, not an existentialist.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

"the unexamined life is not worth living"

Author: Dmitri David Krasik from Boston, USA
18 May 2002

Watanabe realizes how inessential most of his life has been. "the mummy" has been dead for many years when he finds out about his body's illness. The coming of death awakens him to life. All previous considerations of remaining stable and safe are shattered (the man having slept for 30 years awakens to the emptiness of his life). What happens here is the neglect of the Delphi oracle "know thyself"; the approach of death forces Watanabe to examine his life, and this reveals the horrifying void. Many men postpone Socrate's question "What is a good life" until some shock awakens them to the decades lost to thoughtlessness (perhaps many only awaken to quickly fall back asleep, like a slave awakened from wonderful dreams who demands to return to them). Watanabe's courage, as noted by the drinking novelist, is his serious consideration of his life (stand and fight) rather than going back to sleep or suicide (run like hell).

Watanabe's courting of the working girl is a determination to find something in life, and at their last meeting she gives him the necessary clue. How can you be so happy? She answers that she makes bunnies and thinks many children are happy thanks to her. She lives with some meaning, however trite. Watanabe returns to work determined to do something meaningful. He is happy as soon as he gets the idea and until he dies, working honestly to help create something beautiful.

The song sung by him, in the first instant(when drunk) seems to suggest a passionate hedonistic life - given the atmospher this interpretation fits; however the second singing (his last words) is Watanabe swinging on a swing in the park he helped build. In the first he is melancholy and weeping, in the second he is joyous. The words can be paraphrased "life is short. fall in love maiden. don't let the passion in your heart die". Watanabe's message is not to indulge in drunken forgetfulness but to find something worthwhile to love, and use one's passion to create something good. It is an appeal to not fall into self-forgeting, but awaken to the urgency of life and the need to love beauty and create it.

Watanabe says, "I don't have time to be angry". The urgency he feels makes this clear - there is only time to love and admire. In light of his purpose, anger is pettiness.

while admiring the sky "This is beautiful. For 30 years I have not noticed".

The movie also comments on the apathy of people in bearocracy. He reveals that one man can do great things and that apathy is evil that destroys society.

Kirasowa asks us to examine out lives, to awaken and look about. Beauty is going unadmired, and men capable of creating beauty are passing the bucket.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

This film sneaks the meaning of life into a fascinating story.

Author: lowellhill from LA
9 April 2002

Ikiru (To Live) gets my vote for movie of the century. If you can tolerate an older, slow-paced B&W film with subtitles, give it a try. It's set in urban Japan, around 1950, so it's less "foreign" than some other Japanese films made around that time. I've seen it in several video rental stores over the years, both dubbed and subtitled.

In order not to spoil the plot, let's just say that as a result of a series of events, a bureaucrat approaching retirement age realizes that his life to date hasn't amounted to much, and, given an opportunity to reflect, tries to do something about it. Then, just as you find yourself thinking "Gee, that sure was a short, sweet movie!" there is the bonus of a long and fascinating denouement. As movies go, it's a two-fer.

Now I'm firmly in the camp of "keep your expectations under control and you'll have a better chance of enjoying the film." But, much as I believe that another Kurosawa film, Rashomon, illustrates human truth (one truth per person), I think Ikiru illustrates, in a wonderful story with no preaching, the meaning of human life: it's what we put into it.

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5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

A true classic!

Author: Big G-2 ( from California
24 January 2003

IKIRU is a masterpiece. I couldn't disagree more with the last reviewer who thought this was overrated!

For me it truly deservers to mentioned among the greatest features. Takashi Shimura, playing the dying bureaucrat, Watanabe gives one of the finest performances ever. In this feature, he looked so weak and fragile. But in SEVEN SAMURAI (as the head samurai Kamebi), he is strong and able. Some might think it was two different actors!

The man is dying of cancer for goodness sake. Not everyone handles the situation the same. Watanabe is just another soul trying to cope with the despair, and for me this was powerful stuff. (I should give kudos to Kurosawa. The man was able to do more than just epic samurai movies).

Hollywood tearjerkers don't compare with IKIRU. And eventhough this is a 50 year-old black and white foreign movie with subtitles, it shouldn't be an excuse not to watch this. Expand your horizons. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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Good movie

Author: 851222 from Lithuania
31 July 2017

Greetings from Lithuania.

"Ikiru" (1952) tells a story about dying old man and his try to recapture a beauty of life and so something meaningful. I liked this movie for its universal story, great script, good acting and directing the great Akira Kurosawa). The last ~40 min. of this movie dragged a bit for me.

Overall, "Ikiru" is a character study drama. The character in here could be related to almost every human in a world. Don't wait the end to recapture beauty of life, it can be to late. This is a good movie, not Kurosawa's best for me, but a very solid one.

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