• 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • By Patrick
    October 12, 2012
    07:28 AM

    Shimura is one of the greats. Anything with him and Kurosawa is a must.
  • 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.
    • By unkinhead
      March 26, 2015
      03:27 PM

      Okay, I must be in the minority then, I thought the opening narration was excellent set up and was a good introduction into the theme. Perhaps some are taking "show don't tell" too seriously. There is nothing wrong with a character directly talking about the theme of the movie, especially in such a ominous and narrative perspective. On the contrary, I think it creates a nice backdrop for the audience, without feeling preachy or instructive. If this sort of narration where perhaps more ham-fisted, or at the end of the narrative, I would perhaps agree. But in the beginning of the film, before it convinces the audience of it's themes, I felt it was a fine introduction to the film and reveals no more than a plot synopsis would. I do think the film does occasionally meander into the realm of heavy handed department, but very infrequently, and very surprisingly given the very prominent, almost obtrusive subject matter. Ikiru is Kurosawa's best work in my opinion...Now if you want to talk Kurosawa films that I was disappointed in due to it's flaws, I point to Rashomon. But hey, people love it. Mileage may vary and all that.