• Ikiru_current_large

    Among Kurosawa’s films set in the twentieth century, Ikiru—which you can watch for free on Hulu this week—is probably the most widely seen and beloved. This soul-searching morality tale concerns Watanabe (the haunting Takashi Shimura), a widower and city worker nearing retirement who finds out that he has stomach cancer and must decide how to spend his remaining months. Though it was made only two years after the phenomenon of Rashomon, which put Kurosawa’s name on the art-house map in the U.S., it still took nearly eight years for Ikiru to be released here (in the meantime, the more exotic period films Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood, made after Ikiru, were distributed in the States). There’s little physical action, but emotionally, it’s tumultuous, and it’s one of Kurosawa’s most beautiful films, both in terms of the compositions of its images and the depth of its characters. In this short scene, marked by Kurosawa’s expressive camera work, meet Watanabe, at his most despairing after receiving the bad news.

12 comments

  • By Dave
    October 10, 2012
    10:22 AM

    Any Blu-ray release planned for the US?
    Reply
  • By Craig J. Clark
    October 10, 2012
    11:18 AM

    Just watched this again yesterday. There so many moments of such aching transcendence, I really do believe this is Kurosawa's crowning achievement.
    Reply
  • By Batzomon
    October 10, 2012
    04:51 PM

    Red Beard may be Kurosawa's cinematic poem to the good in humanity, but Ikiru is an ode to the good in any human.
    Reply
  • By Patrick
    October 12, 2012
    07:28 AM

    Shimura is one of the greats. Anything with him and Kurosawa is a must.
    Reply
  • By Henry
    October 15, 2012
    01:31 AM

    Shimura is such a great actor who deserves more attention. He could be any characters in any movies, such as a great leader in Seven Samurais or a depressed old man in Ikru. Anybody knows where is he now or is he still alive.
    Reply
  • By Billy
    September 23, 2013
    06:59 PM

    He's dead, Henry.
    Reply
    • By NealTwyford
      October 02, 2014
      06:59 PM

      Where is the blu-ray. Please, do it.
  • By Barry Moore
    October 03, 2014
    11:19 AM

    Though widely regarded as one of Kurosawa’s finest efforts, I found 'Ikiru' rather disappointing when I finally got to see it earlier this summer at a repertory screening. The film is thoughtful, sincere, and edifying, but has a number of significant flaws that detract from it artistically. Paramount among these is the offscreen narrator, who didactically instructs the viewer not only what to expect in the narrative, but how to feel about the characters and their actions. Thus we are told from the beginning that Watanabe has wasted his life, and that it would be tedious to make his acquaintance at this point, before he has found purpose in his existence. Narrative and thematic elements that would have been better served as details to be inferred by the viewer herself are thus imposed upon her by the unseen, omniscient narrator, those elements thus losing much of their power. A similar overbearingly didactic moment occurs when, in the sequence where Watanabe resolves to advocate for the park, the “Happy Birthday” theme (heard sung in an earlier scene) replays on the soundtrack, emphasizing the theme of psychic rebirth that this moment represents. What could have been sensitively conveyed by a more understated approach becomes trite through this overly insistent motif, as if the director did not trust the viewer’s intelligence to infer this theme on her own. I also disliked Kurosawa’s frequent use of wipes, finding this a graceless means to propel the narrative. Elsewhere, the film contains a number of stylistic flourishes that are often interesting and effective, such as the high angle that captures the denizens of a lively nightclub, and the muting of the soundtrack on a busy thoroughfare to emphasize Watanabe’s psychic isolation and dejection upon processing the realization of his impending death. In the realm of content, the depiction of the lesbian couple in the nightclub is striking for its era, at least in terms of contemporary American filmmaking, where such a subject would never have been so openly illustrated. I have mixed feelings about the much vaunted performance of Takashi Shimura as Watanabe. There were times when I felt genuinely moved by the sensitivity of the actor’s interpretation, and other times when his performance seemed almost morbidly comical in the emphatic dejection he imparts through his expressions and gestures. A self-effacing man, which is what we are led to believe Watanabe to be, would not parade his feelings on his sleeve in the manner witnessed here. I did prefer the acting in this film overall to that I’ve encountered in other Kurosawa films, often finding the performances in the director’s work shrill and strident, finding the relatively understated approach used in 'Ikiru' refreshing. I did find the cohesive lack of individuality in some of the supporting characters implausible, such as the actions and assertions made in unison by the ladies of the neighborhood benefiting from Watanabe’s advocacy, and the wholesale embrace of dedication and purpose by the bureaucrat’s colleagues at his wake, as if these characters were effusions of a single organism. These behavioral moments were not stylized, in the way that Yasujiro Ozu, say, might have done, but were presented as if to be read as naturalistic responses to events in the story, and the lack of realism in these unitary group reactions undercuts the filmmaker’s objectives. In sum, 'Ikiru' is an interesting but seriously flawed work. I would not characterize it, as so many others have, as a masterpiece, and surmise that it does not represent Kurosawa at his very best.
    Reply
    • By jonukwho
      October 03, 2014
      04:04 PM

      I disagree, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. To me it is Kurosawa's most emotionally powerful film for the very reasons you gave for disliking it.
    • By Barry Moore
      October 03, 2014
      04:50 PM

      Thank you for your response, jonukwho, to my rather lengthy comment (it is regrettable that comments on this site can't seem to be divided into paragraphs, which would make for a more lucid presentation of ideas in a longer comment such as mine). Jonathan Rosenbaum has posited that 'Ikiru', along with the 1963 drama 'High and Low' (a film I have yet to see in optimal conditions), may represent Kurosawa's finest foray into contemporary-themed storytelling, which may be true, but even so seems a work imbued with as many flaws as virtues. I appreciated the humanist sentiments of the film, and recognized the intelligence behind its execution, but found it overbearing in its didactic flavor (good intentions do not always translate into good works of art). I remain interested in Kurosawa, but I suspect that he may not be a filmmaker who resonates strongly with me. Incidentally, I saw Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 comedy 'Trouble in Paradise' recently on Turner Classic Movies, and was not bothered by the use of wipes in it, finding the pertinent sequence charming rather than irritating, and I'm still trying to understand my different responses to the same technique employed in two (very) different films.
    • By jonukwho
      October 08, 2014
      06:49 PM

      Thank you for the response! I still disagree but I respect your opinion, especially since you defended it so intelligently, you should be a movie critic. I hope you find a Kurosawa film you enjoy, since his body of work is vast and varied, but I believe him to be one of cinema's finest directors, even in his lessor works. Admittedly I love Ikiru, but wouldn't show it to someone as a introduction to his work. I also admit that I thoroughly enjoy Trouble in Paradise as well and am glad you enjoyed it also!
  • By JD Whitman
    January 02, 2015
    08:31 AM

    Barry Moore - yes, Ikiru is flawed (what film isn't?), particularly for its more heavy-handed moments..but thankfully those moments are few and far between, and the existential brilliance of the narrative, the remarkably sharp characterization, the beautiful mix of hope and cynicism, the slow-build and series of set-ups that lead to epic pay-offs...all of this adds up to an amazing film, despite a few gripes. I'm gonna go through your analysis point-by-point, if that's ok. Yes, the opening narration is absolutely the most cringeworthy element of the film, and at first had me wondering if this movie was going to be any good at all. Thankfully, the narrator only appears twice afterward, and in those two instances just provides some very light exposition in just a few sentences, rather than hitting us over the head and telling us what to think. So yes, while the opening is annoyingly obvious, it's not a big issue after that. Totally disagree about the Happy Birthday scene. I found that to be a striking juxtaposition of celebration and despair, in both the script and the execution with the music and imagery, as Watanabe reaches his grand epiphany. One of the best scenes in the film. Whether wipes are effective or not is purely sujective. I dig em, personally (especially in that first montage when the women are being shuffled between various departments) but to some it's a pet-peeve, so hey, what can ya do? I don't see how the depiction of lesbians could be seen as a flaw, as it's a very minor moment and it's mostly implied (they were just dancing with eachother, after all). "A self-effacing man would not parade his feelings like seen here." Except he doesn't parade his feelings...he's supressed, restrained, and his humanity is only exposed in front of others in certain moments upon confronting issues that he had avoided for *decades* (he mostly confides in a complete stranger, the author; and later with a recently befriended Toyo). He doesn't even tell anyone, besides those two, that he's sick. It's all psychologically sound and very believable, and I've recognized Watanabe-like behavior in others, and even in myself. Your assertion about secondary characters acting as a "single organism" is pure nonsense. Did you miss the entire last half of the film, where the characters were arguing with eachother as they slowly but surely got to the truth of the matter? The wake scene shows a wide range of viewpoints, memories and opinions. Yes, they all end up inspired in the end of the sequence (at first, I thought the film was going to get all sentimental, and that all of these charaters would change just as Watanabe did), but then BAM...reality takes over when we arrive back at the office, and the same old routine continues. It reminded me of the ending of The Wire's first season, where we see that no matter how hard the war on drugs is fought, the shit just doesn't change. Institutional dysfuntion is difficult to reform, and political courage doesn't come easy. Watanabe triumphed over his system, but only by facing death. Most people will just go with the safe, easy route, and at great consequence. Kurosawa (and let's not forget his two co-writers, one of whom was instrumental in the film's structural success) handles this theme with great intelligence and nuance. As for the women, yes, they were all grief-stricken...but why wouldn't they be? They were all working together for the same cause, clearly grew to love Watanabe as he came through for them and their families, and were all devastated by the loss. There's absolutely nothing implausible about that... It's fine if you didn't care much for the film, but besides your first point about the narrator (which is dead-on), you're really reaching here. I'm seeing a lot of superficial nitpicking and not much thoughtful criticism of the film's broader themes and intellectual/emotional/historical content - though, admittedly, much of this content isn't apparent in the first viewing. Like much of Kurosawa's work, the film reveals more of its subtext and careful characterization with each rewatch. P.S. - You missed the film's single biggest implausiblity - the fact that Watanabe is able to accomplish so much while dying of a really horrible and debilitating disease. Kurosawa mostly glosses over his symptoms, and he's almost given a superhuman ability to work very long hours and persevere while also supposedly dying of stomach cancer. Still, the fact that I didn't even notice this in my first viewing (and neither did you, apparently) goes to show that the films' strengths greatly outweigh any of its logical inconsistencies or brief moments of heavy-handedness. Ikiru is definitely a masterpiece, and in my opinion Kurosawa's most resonant and memorable work.
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