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|Index||175 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kanji Watanabe is a widowed government section head near retirement who
is informed he has stomach cancer and not long to live. After a period
of high-life and introspection he resolves he must do something
meaningful with the precious time remaining to him.
The premise of Ikiru (which translates in English as "to live") is an old and clichéd idea; the plot is nominally derived from Leo Tolstoy's The Death Of Ivan Ilyich, but probably a thousand other stories. What distinguishes it, and what makes it still as relevant as ever, is the depiction of Watanabe as someone drab and ordinary, with whom we can all relate. When he is faced with the horror of his own mortality he looks back over his work, his family, his contribution to society, and he can find nothing he has done which made any difference. He has slept through life, keeping his head down, following whatever path was the simplest and easiest, either afraid of or indifferent to the possibilities around him. Kurosawa's amazing gift is to present the story of a man painfully similar to ourselves, living in an all-too familiar world where almost everybody is either bland or corrupt, and yet somehow still produce a gripping, profound and intensely moving drama. Shimura is remarkable in the lead, his body bent by the weight of his predicament, his eyes shining with fear and regret as he searches for truth and clarity in an unfeeling world. His outcast status is beautifully encapsulated in the scene where he sings an old song, Gondola No Uta, and those around him move back in fear, lest they somehow catch his affliction. Kurosawa isn't telling us to pity this man - he's saying we are all this man, and everything we do, in our lives, in our work, in our relations with others, affects us and everyone around us. We must all face our own mortality at some point, and consider what account of our deeds we can give. The supreme irony is the lengthy wake sequence, in which Watanabe's colleagues initially downplay his role in the building of the playground, then gradually confess their admiration, then pledge that they will follow his example - only to carry on in the same thoughtless way, doomed to repeat his mistakes. The movie is full of wonderful shots (the shell-shocked Watanabe hearing no sounds on the busy street, the incongruous toy bunny between him and Toyo at the restaurant, the water reflected on his face when he is revived on the building site, many others) which subtly emphasise his plight, as does Fumio Hayasaka's mournful score. Written by the great team of Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni and Kurosawa, who (along with another frequent collaborator, Ryuzo Kikushima) wrote fifteen films together, nearly all classics of Japanese cinema. Ikiru is a picture of great humanity; without simplification or sentimentality it tells a story of hope in a world where the greatest enemies are conformity and inaction. Kurosawa shows us that everyone can make a difference - the choice is up to us.
An epic-length movie sure to test the patience of most viewers weaned
on modern, short-attention-span fare, IKIRU is a very different change
of pace for Akira Kurosawa in comparison to his period samurai action
films. It's a slow, poignant and utterly heartfelt tale about a
bureaucrat who discovers he has terminal cancer. The film takes that as
a starting point and we the viewer proceed to watch as he undergoes a
journey of discovery.
The story takes inspiration from the likes of Goethe's FAUST in places, but elsewhere it's all it's own. It is admittedly very slow in places - an entire hour seems to consist entirely of men sitting in a room while they drink and argue - but at the same time it's oddly watchable. It helps that Kurosawa is a master of his form, and that he elicits a painfully human performance from his long-time regular star, Takashi Shimura.
Come the end, I was most reminded of Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the classic starring James Stewart. However, IKIRU is the more realistic of the two films, stripping back the fantasy and the sentiment to reveal a starker truth entirely, but one equally as profound.
Ikiru is an emotionally sincere wonder of international cinema. This is
one of Kurosawa's best films - though that may not sound like a lot
considering that almost his entire filmography is beyond perfect.
Nonetheless, this is my favourite Kurosawa film based on the story.
The film's protagonist - played by Takashi Shimura, in what may be his greatest acting contribution to the world of film - discovers that he only has a few months left to live due to terminal cancer and starts to actually live and not just pass time. Kurosawa takes the audience on an honest journey of a man's last moments on earth. What the character does and feels is quite understandable. He is miserable, afraid of dying, and trying to the find the last shards of solace and peace before moving on.
The film's cinematography and editing are also aspects of the film to marvel about. What a brilliant piece of film-making this movie was. It's a hard movie to forget about. I highly recommend viewing it; if not for the mere fact that Kurosawa directed it, then at least for the artistic genius behind the film.
All the Kurosawa movies I have seen yet were either samurai based or
mythological. Ikiru is way way way different than all those movies. To
begin with, this is the most philosophical Kurosawa movie I have seen
explaining life and death.
The movie is about an aged bureaucrat who has not taken official leave for 30 years, lives his life almost like a robot or a mummy - lifeless. His life takes a massive turn when he comes to know that he has about 6 months to live because of a terminal stomach cancer. The things he does in the remaining part of his short life constitutes the movie. The movie is not only about living your life, it also states that one does not need to party 24/7 or go travel the world for the remaining life-span to enjoy it, if one does the work given to him in the most honest way and enjoys it, it leads to a fulfilled life. The movie also talks about the petty politics that takes place in the low-level bureaucracy in any government system.
Takashi Shimura has been in all the Kurosawa movies I have seen. The difference though was those movies also featured Toshiro Mifune who always hijacked the movie and fairly so. This movie was meant for an aging actor who you would not even consider if he stands next to you. Takashi Shimura fits the bill perfectly. He has done a splendid job. Sometimes though, I wanted to shout and say, 'Why are you silent, slap your son and tell him your illness'. His portrayal of helplessness forces one to do so. Bollywood classic movie Anand can be said to have inspired from Ikiru. Enough Said.
Rating : 8/10
As difficult as some Japanese films can be, Akira Kurosawa was always
welcomed by Western audiences due to the director's embracing of the
cinematic, as opposed to, say, the static, conversation-heavy work of
Yasujiro Ozu. Still known primarily for his samurai action films and
his film noir homages, Kurosawa's movies were action-packed and
grandiose, shot beautifully through a lens that brings to mind the
great American westerns or the shadowy mise-en-scene of Orson Welles,
making them almost Western in tone. Ikiru, one of Kurosawa's most
spiritual and tonally dark films, took a few years to make it across
Pacific Ocean, and it's not hard to see why. Although, in my opinion,
this is probably Kurosawa's greatest achievement, the subject matter is
sobering, it's satire alarming and it's story-telling techniques
The film opens with an X-ray of our protagonist, Watanabe (Takashi Shimura). The narrator tells us he has stomach cancer, but he does not yet know this, and so we join him, reluctantly, as he goes about stamping his papers in his stagnating job as a bureaucrat. Quiet and eternally hunched, Watanabe is an introverted man, spending little of what he earns to the frustration of his selfish son. When he learns that he has only about a year to live, Watanabe goes through the familiar stages of acceptance as he drinks, parties, fails to turn up for work, becomes involved with a much younger woman and angers his family. But he soon turns his attention to building a children's playground, a project he has seen passed around by the many pencil-pushers in the various departments within the council he works for, which has frustrated the residents of the decaying area.
It's with this shift of focus that comes the true masterstroke of Ikiru. Up to this point, we have been with Watanabe every step of the way, but suddenly, as the narrator informs us, he's dead. We no longer get the first-person perspective, but the third-person perspective, as various colleagues and political players gather for Watanabe's funeral. The film becomes less a human drama, and more of a social-political statement, as the other dead-eyed civil servant's in his office slowly come to realise the greatness of the man. The deputy mayor is there, claiming Watanabe's work was within the confines of his job and proving the bureaucratic machine works. This, of course, is simple electioneering, but the others reminisce and the truth begins to slowly reveal itself in the final months of Watanabe's life.
A lot of the film relies on the performance of Shimura, a long-time collaborator with Kurosawa. He is utterly magnetic here, remaining a hushed presence and developing his persona into a weapon to ensure his work gets done before he bites the bullet. In a heart-breaking moment, he croaks a quiet song in a packed bar for it to fall silent. The young hipsters slowly move away, while Watanabe's companion, a booze-addled writer, looks emotional. Kurosawa, only 40 at the time, was also making a comment on the post-war social outcasting of the elderly, embodied in the aforementioned bar scene and in Watanabe's success and money-drive son. Ikiru is many things, but it's the humanity of the story that will linger on in your mind after the credits have rolled, and it ends with one of the finest closing shots in history.
There's little that I need to say about Akira Kurosawa, one of the
greatest film-makers to have walked the earth. This is perhaps his
simplest and most stirring movie. A simple setting, a very
straightforward story line and very real characters. There was nothing
extraordinary about this movie, except the journey that it will take
For a little over two hours, you become a bureaucrat in the pre- reformation Japanese society. You start off as a corrupt officer of the government and you then go on to experience apathy, sorrow, grief, revival, struggle, disappointment and then finally inner peace.
The movie is not just about Japanese society. It is not a commentary on the state of affairs at that time. It is a brilliant take on the human condition itself. A telling tale of transformation, by whatever means, of a human being into a humane being. Yet, it is bitter-sweet in the sense that even such a metamorphosis doesn't really change things too much. People see the man and his transformation, they hear his story. Some of them even weep for him and grieve, but in the end, they all move on. C'est la vie!
A must watch for all movie aficionados and a movie worthy of being cherished. A classic and a masterful work of art. I assure you that when Watanabe sits on the swing and sings his final song, you will feel that lump in your throat.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. FAIR WARNING!
First, I want to get the negative out of the way and in so doing, point out that this film was finished and released in 1952. Perhaps melodrama of this type was the norm, but I came away feeling that this man's immanent death and his reaction to that inevitability was a bit overplayed. There, that is out of the way.
I love the way Akira Kurosawa put this together. The film opens on the dull and crushingly boring life of Kanji Watanabe. He is a bureaucrat in the office of public affairs. For thirty years his primary responsibility has been to shift what ever comes to his office to some other department. In short he does nothing. He is a "rubber-stamp" official.
Early in the film Watanabe realizes he has terminal cancer. Worse he is not told the truth by his doctor, but finds out from another patient. It is clear he is going to die; and he realizes that he has lived too regimented a life. He has done nothing useful and this, not his impending death, is what really bothers him. The fact that he has managed, for three decades, to waste not only his own time, but the time of others.
Fortune is kind to him though. In his despair, he first encounters a novelist who has a penchant for words. This writer, played by Yûnosuke Itô, perfectly expresses what Kanji is going through and applauds his every effort to rectify his wasted life, but it not enough for Kanji.
The next day he runs into the youngest coworker in his office. He soon realizes that she has a childlike joy of life and he begins to experience envy and a longing to see life as she does. He eventually frightens her by wanting to spend so much time with her. This is perhaps the best casting done for the entire film, Miki Odagiri as Toyo, delivers such boundless joy and enthusiasm you forget that she's acting.
Eventually Kanji finds a purpose for his life and the first three fourths of the film closes on his death. You don't know what he actually accomplished, but you do know by this point that he found a purpose; perhaps now he can die in peace.
The last quarter of the film is Kanji's wake and the revelation that he almost single-handedly got this special project completed. His co-workers refuse to believe it at first, but as the wake wears on and the participants become more inebriated, revelations come about that prove that the lowly Watanabi did indeed accomplish his task.
It is interestingly done. This could be a very dull story about a small and almost insignificant man and his life. But Kurosawa completely immerses us in Kanji's pain, dismay, and confusion. We become Watanabe. We cannot help but feel very deeply for this character.
Just when you would expect the story to tell of Kanji's triumph Kurasawa kills the character and tells the remainder of his story through a series of flash-backs revealing the truth of Kanji's deeds at his funeral. It is almost astounding how many flash-backs there are yet Kurosawa manages to keep the story cohesive and easy to follow.
It is a masterwork of story telling, though it seems overly melodramatic by today's standards of cinema.
The real question of this story is: if you knew you were going to die,
what would you do? Would you spend your last days doing everything you
wanted to do
any form of pleasure you can imagine, or would you do
something importance, something that would actually mean something.
An old man (Takashi Shimura) named Kenji is dying of cancer and feels his whole life has been wasted. For the past 30 years he's been working at Tokyo City Hall behind a desk accomplishing absolutely nothing, mainly just stamping papers with his rubber stamp and warming his chair.
When he does find out he has cancer in the beginning of the film, he simply stops going to work and one day meets a stranger (who does a terrific job with his role) in a bar and in a conversation he says that he has money but doesn't know how to spend it for sheer entertainment. The stranger has pity on the man but at the same time envy since he doesn't just kill himself, but faces the facts of life and so of course he helps the old man have a good time but with his money as they go out on a night of night clubs, women and booze.
Akira Kurosawa is one of my personal favorite directors and has many masterpieces but this doesn't exactly rank among those masterpieces like "Ran", "Throne of Blood", "Yojimbo" and the forgotten gem "The Bad Sleep Well". But that doesn't mean that this isn't a good film because in reality it's a great film, and the strongest point of this film is the simple but brilliant script as it tells us to appreciate life and the beauty of it, while we have it, hence the title of the film, "Ikiru" which means "To Live".
One thing I didn't like about this film is the way the old man talks throughout the film; as if he can barley speak and you can barley make out what he is saying. But then again that is his role, moping around with this performance, you really believe that this man is dying of cancer and is truly upset with himself for not "living" his life all these years. One of his co-workers even tells to him over lunch that everyone has a nickname at the office and his was "The Mummy". He pauses for a minute and she thinks she has offended him but he reassures her that she hasn't in-fact; she has named him perfectly as he realizes that's what his life has been ever since his beloved wife has left him 30 years ago.
Kenji feels that the worse part isn't dying; he feels that he has wasted his whole life and doesn't want to die before he does something of importance, meaning he wants to live his last days and not just exist as he has been doing all his life. He feels that he has been dead for a long time now but is just realizing it now when it's too late.
There is a great moral to this story and a novelist in this film says it best with this beautiful and unforgettable quote: "How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death."
There is something to be said about the five-decade-long career of the
late Japanese cinematic master craftsman Akira Kurosawa. I've only seen
a few of his master-works, but every film I have seen of his is a
brilliant, breathtaking exercise in cinematic master craftsmanship.
Case in point: his 1952 dramatic masterpiece "Ikiru" (which when
translated from Japanese, means "to live").
The story itself (co-written by Kurosawa himself, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni) is pretty simple and centers around Kanji Watanabe (Kurosawa's most prolific go-to man and my favorite international movie performer, the late Takashi Shimura), a faceless government bureaucrat who at the beginning of the story, learns he has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and has less than a year to live. He then sets about trying to make sense of his life and to give his existence some kind of meaning in his few remaining days.
Throughout "Ikiru," the one thing that I was continually amazed by was the sincere, heartfelt and ultimately, heartbreaking, performance of Takashi Shimura as this film's dying middle-aged protagonist - and the film's most significantly developed character - Kanji Watanabe. Also throughout the film, I was constantly reminded of Shimura's later performance two years down the road as the wise, headstrong, brave, battle-tested, and heroic samurai master Kambei Shimada in Kurosawa's epic masterpiece "Seven Samurai" (1954) - my all-time favorite Kurosawa picture and my all-time favorite foreign-language feature; Shimura's Kambei Shimada was my favorite warrior from "Seven Samurai" for his bravery and leadership skills.
Here, Shimura's Kanji Watanabe is weak, frail, panic-stricken, and fearful of his impending demise. In a few other ways, I'm somehow reminded of Nicolas Cage's Oscar-winning turn in "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995), where he played a failed screenwriter who was determined to drink himself to death and nothing, not even love, was going to stop him from accomplishing his goal. Kanji Watanabe is much the polar opposite of Cage's character, who doesn't just want to live a little bit longer, but just wants to give his few remaining months some sort of meaning and to affirm to himself (and us), that his existence meant something to the world.
It's a bold and brilliant statement of what it means to live a life worth living; I've often pondered what it means to go through life and to work in meaningless professions rather than simply living the rich, fulfilling lives that we all really want to live, and not waiting until it's too late to realize it. This is much of what I gather from "Ikiru," though like any great film (or any film, really), many statements and messages can be gathered from it. But this is what I got from "Ikiru."
After all these years, "Seven Samurai" remains my favorite Akira Kurosawa picture, followed by "Ran" (1985), "Rashomon," (1950), and now this film. I think Takashi Shimura really gave his all in this picture, a tragic, career-defining performance that is all too real and for some, could possibly hit a little too close to home (though I will always regard Kambei Shimada from "Seven Samurai" as the greatest character he's ever played). Why he was never nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, I will never know. But there's no question that after watching this movie, he deserved the greatest official recognition an actor can receive for their work on a motion picture...
... and a masterpiece acting job for Takashi Shimura for his incredibly
moving performance as Watanabe, a dying bureaucrat who realizes he has
squandered his life in his unrewarding, dead end job. What to do, now
that he is facing death? That question is the key to IKIRU, perhaps
Kurosawa's best picture and one of the best I have ever seen.
Action fans, there is no action, no fighting, no battle scenes. This is an intense character study which hinges on Shimura's bravura acting job, who was himself an action hero in other Kurosawa films. I thought his ability to plumb the depths of sorrow and despair was astonishing, and he was able to sustain the overall impact despite the fact that he was in virtually every scene.
I don't think IKIRU could be made today, or if it were it would have a very limited audience. It moves slowly for its length and requires too much involvement with its characters for modern audiences with their abbreviated attention spans. Movies for grownups are such a chore in 2011.
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