Years. That’s how long it has been since I last saw an Akira Kurosawa film. I had watched most of his entries before properly tracking them on this blog, which meant that I felt he need to ration them out. With Ikiru I figured that I would need to watch it in a time where I was mentally okay enough to deal with the subject, but also where it would work as a reward for some previously work-filled times.
The subject of Ikiru (which means ‘to live’ in English) is a man who is near retirement from a long and meaningless job in bureaucracy who finds out he has terminal stomach cancer. Knowing this, he has an obvious crisis and wants to find out how to truly live in the little time he has left. This feels like the ultimate in Oscar bait when I write it out and yet Kurosawa never makes it feel too melodramatic – in fact he greate beauty in despair and deliver hop and an ending that has hope and a bit of an edge to it.
The image of the main character swinging in the snow is fairly iconic, to the point that it was inspiration for the cover of a Silent Hill game. It’s one of the main points where Kurosawa’s direction and Takashi Shimura’s awe-inspiring performance collide to make something truly unforgettable. I have seen Shimura’s in a number of films by now, all of them by Kurosawa, but his turn as the protagonist in Ikiru is something else. He is utterly human and so can break your heart with a look as his own heart breaks. He can haunt you with his mournful singing and can make you ache as he struggles to understand how he can find a purpose to make the remains of his life count for something.
Ikiru is also a cutting take down of the Japanese bureaucracy. In the final hour of the film, we are at the funeral of our protagonist watching his final months in flashbacks as the other bureaucrats diminish his final actions whilst also deferring to their superiors. I don’t know what act of Japanese beaurpcracy hurt Kurosawa, but wow does he take the system down a peg or two.
With one Kurosawa film left on the list, I now have another film that is being placed in my final 50. It’ll be a while, but given how all the previous Kurosawa films have gone down – Dersu Uzala is going to be a film worth waiting for.