Ikiru (1952)
November 13, 2023 4:07 PM - Subscribe

A bureaucrat tries to find meaning in his life after he discovers he has terminal cancer.

Mr. Watanabe suddenly finds that he has terminal cancer. He vows to make his final days meaningful. His attempts to communicate his anguish to his son and daughter-in-law lead only to heartbreak. Finally, inspired by an unselfish co-worker, he turns his efforts to bringing happiness to others by building a playground in a dreary slum neighborhood. When the park is finally completed, he is able to face death with peaceful acceptance.

Hoshi Soffen: Takashi Shimura in the starring role of Kanji Watanabe, tells a tale of a man who is a small cog in a large wheel of bureaucracy. He discovers that he has only six months to live. In attempting to make up for the thiry boring years of his life, he searches for the best possible use of what little time he has left Frivolity and companionship fail him. Only in conscientious work does he find peace. Watanabe dies. His companions expierence a revelation when they understand the motives for his sudden change during the end of his life. But alas, the revelation lasts but one night. The hopelessness of bureaucracy continues.
Takashi Shimura, for the portrayal of our hero, was voted the best actor of 1952. His interpretation of the pathetic figure is sensitive and deeply moving. A spark of life and exhilaration in this serious drama is contributed by Miss Miki Odagiri. This is her first film role, but she displays a natural talent for acting.

As in other Kurosawa's films, photographic accomplishment is unforgettable. He has a way of showing us a round hat on a man's head or a swinging curtain or a lonely man drinking tea that require no explanation.

Dorothy Masters: the presentation is an able exercise in tilting with windmills. The author-director is implemented with satirical brilliance and fine human interest, but it was never his intent to be wholly successful in a crusade. Lassitude in bureaucracy and skullduggery in politics are here to stay, he concedes, and only does the soul of man transcend such frailties.

Hannah Douch: Kanji finds his purpose not in living his last days wildly, nor in finding a lover, but instead in pushing for a children’s playground to be built. Unlike his love for his son, his gentle persistence to make a difference in the community are not in vain. When the final shot of the playground full of children plays out, there is a sense of completion.

Ultimately, Ikiru is unusually optimistic; it reaffirms the idea that life has meaning, and that all people, even those who are dying, can make a difference. This film is not light-hearted, far from it, but what it lacks in cheerfulness is made up for in meaning. And in a world that is constantly striving to do better, Ikiru is a reminder that our seemingly small and ordinary actions are enough.

posted by Carillon (8 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What an amazing film. Coming away from it I was struck just by how beautiful and poignant it was, without ever really feeling forced or dramatic. It's also a funny film, without ever being comedic. I was impressed just by how fine a line it was walking. Partially I think a lot of the success is due to the fact that we only see his impact after he dies. So by putting so much at the wake, it helps it not feel like this melodramatic setting. Rather we see he's a hero by the people that he touched, and his impact is felt through that as opposed to stirring music. Just amazing all around, and I'm excited to have finally seen it.
posted by Carillon at 4:45 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]

I first saw this the same day I watched the series finale for The Good Place - and I can recommend that as a double-feature.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]

I saw this as part of a film class in college and expected to hate it. It is just an amazing film.
posted by absalom at 8:45 AM on November 14

That scene of him on the swing, oof, I will never forget that.
posted by gudrun at 1:09 PM on November 14

I watched a lot of Kurosawa for the first time this year and this one still sits prominently in my memory. The wake is an amazing sequence that layers in so much more of the narrative as the conflicting stories are poured in and the attendees need to reckon with their part in his story.
posted by Molesome at 2:29 AM on November 15

I haven't watched this one in probably two decades but just seeing this post made images, scenes, and the emotions I felt while watching this come back to me very vividly.

The reason I like Kurosawa so much is that he's the perfect combination of an artist and an artisan who understands the medium and craft so well that he can seemingly effortlessly create these influential movies with profound messages, but they are never plodding or preachy.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:33 AM on November 15 [1 favorite]

I recently watched the 2022 Bill Nighy film Living, which is an homage to this film (and wonderful in its own right because, well, Bill Nighy), and I really want to see it. Thank you for posting!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:56 AM on November 16

I just watched this on Kanopy. Shimura’s performance is amazing. The pacing and editing are really effective. It’s a long film with a lot of slow, lingering scenes, but it always feels like it’s moving forward. And the sudden jump to “5 months later” midway through really surprised me. The sound design was especially intriguing, with a lot of jarring contrasts in the types and levels of background noise and music from scene to scene.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:16 PM on November 20

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