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Reviews & Ratings for
Ikiru More at IMDbPro »

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The truth is, in other words, Art!

Author: Gary170459 from Derby, UK
25 May 2008

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 geological eye-blink)?

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.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

holy crap.

Author: Doug Galecawitz ( from Lisle, IL
6 September 2007

this movie made me go a big rubbery one. this was way more emotionally resonant than Kane. when happy birthday swells....

how do i explain this to friends? how do i recommend this to the derelicts and scumbags i proudly call my friends? i'm not even sure what to say to recommend it. it's something intangible but raw. i can't really refer to anything in particular except the movie was just strong. well worth the $10 criterion disc. this may be one of my new favorites. maybe it's all the cold medicines talking. or maybe that this is kind of like Kane in reverse. the big emotional pay off right in the middle. or maybe it's because unlike Kane our protagonist Watanabe is actually a sympathetic character. is it even possible to watch this movie in groups of people?

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: GyatsoLa from Ireland
11 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I first saw part of this movie in unusual circumstances - while eating noodles with a friend in a Japanese restaurant. It was playing (no sound) in the background on the opposite side of the restaurant. I couldn't keep my eyes off it (no offense to my friend), especially the scene where the main character is dragged on a tour of the night hot spots of post war Tokyo. The editing and photography was dazzling - I knew immediately it had to be Kurosawa, and I had to see the movie. At the time, i was only interested in seeing his samurai and historic epics.

To say this movie didn't disappoint is a huge understatement. It is simply a masterpiece, this has to be one of the greatest movies ever made. It is of course (as anyone reading the reviews here will know) deeply human and hugely moving. It is a very beautiful and thought provoking movie. But its also quite amazingly structured - it breaks so many rules of film making - it 'ends' half way through and an almost completely new movie starts - a brilliant third act at his funeral, where the formerly minor characters become stars (a brilliant ensemble piece of acting) as the former colleagues argue about what the deceased stood for. I can't think of any movie that has used flashbacks in time to such great effect. Each segment of the movie - the initial funny set up in the government office, the nightclub scene, his dating with the simple but funny office girl and of course the final playground scene - each is perfection.

Some reviewers have drawn many comparisons with Ozu's Tokyo Story, made the same year. It so happens that Tokyo Story is maybe my all time favorite movie. Well, Ikiru is right up with it. While Tokyo Story is much more subtle, like 'a strong current under still water' as Kurosawa would have put it, this is much more muscular, direct film making. Its occasionally sentimental, even manipulative, in a way Ozu would never have dreamed of trying. But it is also a '10' in my book. An absolute must-see for anyone interested in cinema. Hell, its a must see for anyone interested in living.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

3 approaches

Author: Polaris_DiB from United States
21 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie can almost be considered three different movies, as each act contains its own very different approach to the drama of a bureaucrat affected with a lethal cancer and a sudden need for life.

The first part is the most self-consciously cinematic, containing the most amounts of wipes, fades, dissolves, flash-backs, and even voice-over of the entire production. Akira Kurosawa backs up the introduction of a lifeless person with stunning set design and deep focus throughout, but these features in conjunction with the cinematic processes described provide a rich and layered detailing of something that normally would be very tedious to watch. This, then, is when Watanabe is still alive. However, he lives while he's dead.

The second part, or middle act, is after he discovers his illness and learns that there's no hope for his life nor comfort from his family. 3's appear throughout this work (and Kurosawa was always fond of triangles), and this fateful number appears in the different ways Watanabe attempts to find "life"... first is the attempt to live it up in a disturbingly entrapped and claustrophobic Westernized style life (the bitter imagery in conjunction with the bureaucratic theme makes this movie a rather vehement protest against Westernization in Japan). Unfufilled by that, he then attempts to live vicariously through an energetic ex-coworker. After that relationship turns sour, he takes her advice to try to "make something" for the world. This part of the movie is the most directly narrative. The film-making is a little more reserved, and it is used transparently to detail the slowly ailing life and the obsession for hope the character has. This is his mis-guided struggle for life, but also contains a scene wherein he is pretty much "born again" (the characters in the background singing the happy birthday song don't know it's for him).

The third part is a narrative-within-a-narrative, as all of the characters from earlier in the film (save the energetic young woman and the Mephistopheles-like poet) come to reminisce about Watanabe, and in the process begin to understand how much he was actually able to do. Now the story is being told from a completely different perspective, Watanabe isn't even there, and yet... now he's finally alive, as his legacy and his presence is respected by everyone (either immediately or gradually). The narrative-within-a-narrative approach helps to put the audience in the place of the bureaucrats who try to take credit for Watanabe's success. After they promise themselves to become better people and save the world (don't we all after narratives like this?), they soon get sucked back into their real lives, showing that it is not one's intentions, but one's actions that truly define what it is "to live." As usual, Kurosawa shows his skills of consummate artistry, but this time he shows an acute structural approach that transcends narrative to create a rather poignant and undidactic theme. And best of all, he never falls into sentimentality.


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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

This may change how you view your life

Author: bandw from Boulder, CO
4 March 2007

You should not watch this movie unless you are prepared to look at how you are living your life, particularly if you have, or have had, a routine job.

The protagonist, Kanji Watanabe, is an aging civil servant, the Section Chief of Public Affairs, in a large Japanese city (presumably Tokyo). Early in the film Watanabe discovers that he is dying of stomach cancer and this forces him to take a sober look at his life, and he is not too happy with what he sees. He sees that he has effectively been dead for thirty years working in an organization where people fear to take vacations lest it be discovered that they would not be missed.

The story is not played for sentiment. For example when Watanabi shares the secret of his disease with a young woman, Toyo, and admits to having lived a sterile, spartan life, he tries to excuse his behavior by saying that he has done it all for his son. But Toyo does not let him get away with that excuse, saying that his son never asked for such sacrifice. She notes that Watanabi made his choices regardless of whether he recognized them as choices or not. Watanabi is ultimately taken to the depths of existential despair which forces him to try to salvage some personal meaning in life before he dies. Salvation lies in the passionate and persistent pursuit of a personally meaningful endeavor, ironically at his job.

While the main thrust of the movie is in detailing Watanabi's crisis, many other themes are dealt with.

We get insights into the state of Japan in the early 1950s, just after the end of the Allied occupation of Japan following WWII. One thing we see is a government mired in bureaucracy. When a group of women come to the local authorities concerned about cleaning up a sewage pond in their neighborhood they are routed to some sixteen departments (including Watanabi's) getting a royal runaround - should be Pest Control, should be Parks, should be Child Welfare, etc. The women finally give up in frustration making the comment, "This is not democracy." The office buildings are run down and many still show scars from the war. Mambers of the Yakuza even make an appearance.

Another thing we see is a generational gap. The older generation lives simply and is financially conservative. This distinction is made between Watanabi, who lives in sparse surroundings, versus his son and daughter-in-law who live in the same house but have more possessions and are much more concerned with material things. Also, Watanabi's first attempts to "live" after finding out his diagnosis are to frequent the pachinko parlors, jazz clubs, strip-tease bars, and crowded dance halls where young people are congregating. We see that Japan's move to Westernization is well under way. You can interpret Watanabi's death as a symbol of the end of the old Japan and his reluctant passing of his estate to his estranged son and daughter-in-law as the transition from an old self-disciplined Japan to a new more materially oriented, Westernized Japan.

In addition to the generational gap, there is an unequal distribution of wealth. When Watanabi and Toyo are at a restaurant there is a birthday party going on in the background. The convivial carefree atmosphere of the birthday party is contrasted with Toyo's jealous gaze as she realizes that she will never be in that class. Initially Toyo works in the same department as Watanabi, but she is smart enough to see that it is a dead end - she is horrified when she realizes that Watanabi has been there for thirty years. But when she quits, the best job she can land is working in a factory that makes stuffed rabbits.

"Ikiru" reaches its true distinction in the extended scene at Watanabi's wake. Here Kurosawa touches on some of the same themes as in "Rahomon," showing how we all filter experience through our own unique outlooks, frequently ignoring the facts. Watanabi's relatives have interpreted his unusual behavior, due to his illness, as resulting from his having an affair. People rewrite history to present themselves in the most favorable light. Instead of reacting to Watanabi's achievement by reflecting on their own impotence, some of his coworkers actually criticize him for having been so aggressive and not following the rules.

All of this presented through masterful black and white cinematography. The civil servants sit around a desk and are dwarfed by huge stacks of paper. It is interesting that in a scene where Watanabi rides through the streets of Tokyo the neon lights of the city are reflected off the car windows in exactly the same way that the same scene is played with Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation."

The Criterion Collection DVD is of good quality, even though there is some significant flicker in some scenes. The subtitles have been made current using phrases like, "I can't wrap my head around it," "bummer," "you actually *get* it". There is some explicit profanity that would not have been in the early versions. The commentary track is excellent.

This film may have its strongest impact on older people who are forced to look back at their lives, but it should have a powerful effect on younger people as well. As one of the characters says, "But any one of us could suddenly drop dead."

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Simply one of the best

Author: kris-oak from Sweden
9 October 2006

Simply one of the best movies ever made.

Every time I see this movie Im stunned by the fact of its sincerity:the sincerity of Kurosawas vision, and his courage to without compromises follow it through.

Embedded in a story of an old man, civil servant, who one day gets the information from his doctor that he suffers from stomach cancer, are all the the big features of great storytelling: allergorism truth, symbolism-take any choice from the dictionary. And its all told by the great humanist Akira Kurosawa, in his downplayed, earthy and somewhat warm ironic way. If you ever wondered about what Kurosawa was all about, watch this one.

It is a true catharsis.

Watch it!!

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A life not wasted.

Author: mikohime from United States
4 September 2006

One of Kurosawa's greatest films. Deeply moving exploration of the life of everyman who ever aspired to greatness and never achieved it. This film shows that great men often perform small acts that live on in the lives of those affected by their acts. It also illustrates the type of "credit takers" in elective office who try to claim the glory achieved by the small people who are their subordinates. The theme song is enough to make me cry, and I'm an old man. I first saw this when I lived in Japan over 35 years ago. I heartily recommend this film to everyone who has ever toiled in a cubicle or at any mundane job that gives no inner satisfaction. Violence and sex are not necessary in the telling of a story like this. This film MUST be available on DVD.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Ikiru, most relevant move I've seen in a loong time.

Author: kittycat-18 from United States
20 November 2005

Not having everything by Akira Kurosawa, I picked up a copy of Ikiru. Having been slightly let down by "Sanjuro", I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was pure heart-wrenching power, the sort of stuff that one believes is possible by telling a good story, but rarely finds. I'm not going to repeat what others have said, as you can read many a fine summary of the movie, but here is what I will tell y'all...

Ikiru gives us the finest of Akira Kurosawa the director and Takashi Shimura the lead actor. And unlike most Japanese films, this one is not about feudal Japan! Instead, one gets a peek at the Japan of 1952, one that remains more unknown to most folks, including myself. Just observing the surroundings is an adventure, a discovery of the hereto unknown.

The story itself possesses more raw emotion than, well, forget the comparisons. I'd put it up with Schindler's List. I'd buy it. Wait, I did. Oh never mind.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Worthwhile film but somewhat disappointing to me

Author: Bob Pr. from Topeka, KS
10 February 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a long widowed & long time (over 30 years) city government clerk whose married son & wife live in his home. W's job, as section chief, is to review paper work produced by his section and apply his stamp to make them official. It's always been a meaningless, pretend work job, just as is the work in all the other sections.

W. has increasingly suffered from stomach and digestive problems. He finally sees a doctor but, just before seeing him, he chats with a fellow patient in the waiting room from whom he learns that, if he has certain symptoms (all of which W. has), his doctor will tell him he has a mild ulcer, to eat the foods that agree with him, etc.--but he really has stomach cancer and less than a year to live.

After examination, his doctor tells W. he has a mild ulcer and to eat the foods that agree with him, etc. W. realizes his life is near its end.

He tries to tell his uncaring son but he's disinterested and doesn't hear. W. has been frugal, saving money--but for what? He withdraws some and a new acquaintance suggests W. live it up with drink, dance, and wild women and serves as W's guide through his futile attempt to find meaning this way.

A spark happens when a young woman who works in his department resigns because she can't stand its meaninglessness. W. is attracted by her vitality and spends time with her until she pushes him away.

But then he finds a purpose to accomplish: some mothers have been trying to get a swampy, buggy area in their neighborhood drained and converted into a playground for their children. But, typically, they've been shuffled from department to department fruitlessly without any progress. W. takes up their cause and accomplishes the deed just before his death. During his last breaths, he gently swings in the new playground in the snow, smiling, at peace, softly singing a song about seizing life before it's too late.

After W's death, there's a wake at which his supervisors and coworkers drink and discuss W's legacy--did he accomplish anything?--did he know he had cancer?

I saw this in a "great films" group. All others probably rated it as 10/10 stars--they were very moved by and loved it.

I also thought it was good, worthwhile, but I'd rate it as 7/10. The cause of my disappointments: I thought ALL of the characters were VERY one-dimensional stereotypes and that the work situation & appearance were over-the-top caricatures. Those qualities reminded me most of plays in puppet theaters and that resemblance diminished its power for me. But the film DID give a worthwhile experience and message (although not ANYwhere near that of "Rashomon").

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Low-key, free of sentiment and touching

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
15 September 2008

For pretty much his whole working life, Kanji Watanabe has been a bureaucrat in one of the departments of the city. In terms of long service it is impressive but in terms of living or achieving something, it is practically the equivalent of having never been on Earth in the first place. This is just one of the realisations that hit Kanji when he discovers that not only does he have cancer but that his options are limited and death is perhaps only months away. Determined to try and capture what he sees others doing and unable to really talk to his son, Kanji makes several new acquaintances before decided on his final actions.

I've been using my DVD rental subscription to catch up on "classics" that I have never actually seen and recently that has seen me focusing on Akira Kurosawa who I consider a great filmmaker – but mainly because that is what I'm told, hence me seeing for myself! The last few films were very famous ones and also period pieces in feudal Japan so Ikiru was a bit of a change of pace for me and I wasn't even sure what it was about. The rating and high esteem it is held in is probably a bit misleading because those expecting to be amazed or blown away by "one of the greatest films ever made" etc will be disappointed because it is a very low key piece. This makes it less roundly enjoyable than, say, Yojimbo, but no less great a film – just very good in a different way. Being a very slight film, we do not see Kanji blow the world away or decide to go sky-diving, climbing a mountain or any one of many things that make their way onto these "things to do before I die/ turn 30/40/50/whatever" lists but rather he just looks to feel energetic, less old and just have small fun that his drab life and focus on work has seen him lose.

In trying to discover something that will give him this, we see him almost desperate and I loved the mix of pity and fear in the eyes of some of those around him – as if death is perhaps catching. We see it in the bar where he sings and kills the mood and also in the eyes of his female colleague who he so desperately wants to be brought alive by. Ultimately his act is not one of self but one for others; nor is it a heroic act of his own labour but one of gentle persuasion to make others act – in fact it isn't even anything amazing but just a small achievement to try and make him forget the years of inactivity and bureaucracy. It is touching in the simplicity and the meaning of the journey and I did also like the structure of the film at the two-thirds mark where we start looking back instead of following the story forward. Although less full of spectacle than his other films I have seen, Kurosawa delivers some great shots but is more impressive in the detail. He stays very close to his main subject and we are not allow to stay distant from the loss and sense of waste that he feels at the end of his life. It helps greatly that he has drawn a great performance from Shimura, whose face is so expressive and eye's are like a direct link to the character's thoughts. He is the heart of the film and a bad performance would have killed it, but no risk here.

Ikiru is perhaps not as well known as some of Kurosawa's work and it is not as easily enjoyable as some of his other films but in this low-key piece there is a real gem of a film that is beautifully delivered without sweeping sentiment, big gestures or lies in the narrative or characters. For this it is all the more touching and another reason why the director is held in such high esteem.

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