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4.4 out of 5 stars
Ikiru [DVD] [1952]
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 24 January 2017
Kanji Watanabe is a haunting figure, whose pathos comes back to you days after seeing him. Even if, at times, that pathos seemed overly milked, the slow-to-change expressions and hang-dog look conveying his essential nature. In the end he is profoundly moving, an emblem of the working man slowly coming to recognise the truth of his life, the endless drudgery, now signalled to end in a few months. And here, too, he is tentative, trying the obvious means of self-forgetting, until he hits on the idea of a children's playground, at a most surprising moment, watching a stuffed rabbit leap across a cafe table. The structure is highly unusual, perhaps dividing into three opening chapters where he discovers his illness, then tries to live it up in the company of a young novelist he just met, traipsing around all the night haunts; then with a young woman from work whose youth and vivaciousness he finds irresistible. Once he discovers his true calling we only see him at one remove, remembered by his fellow bureaucrats in a rapid series of short flashbacks. The second section of the film, lasting about 45 minutes (half as long as the first), is essentially set at his wake, with these flashbacks giving the impression it is picking up momentum, or turning on a spot, but giving the hero a kind of aura which marks him out as both an everyman and a truly exceptional human being, in a way that anyone could achieve. Kurosawa's style is slightly oppressive and can seem too blatant; it has a Dickensian sense of red tape and the grind of working life; and also refers to Faust, while having aspects of a fable. A comparison with Billy Wilder's The Apartment also seems to suggest itself, even though Jack Lemmon is superficially very different - and talks a lot faster! Also a sense of Twelve Angry Men at the final reckoning being thrashed out, trying in a claustrophobic group to get to the heart of what his actions meant. However you see it, Watanabe is a figure you remember.
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on 9 May 2014
I had watched this film on television about 40 years ago late one night when my parents had gone to bed. I would have been in my mid-teens and it made a significant impact on me at the time. There was nothing pretentious or art house in my appreciation of it. If anything it was its simplicity and lack of pretention that appealed to me. A man coming to terms with his rapidly approaching death, after trying self-pity and excessive indulgence in the pleasures that he had denied himself all his life for the sake of his son, finally decides to do just one significant thing before he dies and obstinately and patiently carries out his goal despite all the obstacles placed in his way, including petty bureaucracy, political corruption and threats from gangsters. I had more or less forgotten about this film until it came up in a discussion I had with my wife a few weeks ago. I thought I would get a copy so that we could watch it together. I was amazed by the negative review that I read here and wondered if my memory could have got it so wrong. I ordered it, it arrived yesterday and we watched it together last night. We both found it incredibly moving and we didn't even notice how long it was until we looked at the clock. The scene where Watanabe starts singing in the bar is particularly heart-wrenching. But more than that it raises so many questions about so many issues that we haven't stopped talking about it. For example, it's too easy to see Watanabe's son as unfeeling and insensitive to his father but, as the young girl who Watanabe pursues says, his son didn't ask him to turn himself into a 'mummy' for his sake and the end of the film leaves me feeling desperately sorry for the son's remorse. Are parents necessarily doing their children a favour when they sacrifice so much for them? It is true that some of the acting seems a little odd to someone used to English and American films, but if you make allowances for this it comes over as a truly unique and moving expression of the purpose and meaning of life. I can understand why Spielberg says that it is his favourite film (although I would have serious misgivings about an American re-make) and I would encourage anyone and everyone to watch it. If you don't like it you won't have lost much, but you will probably love it and if you do you will have gained a lot.
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on 10 July 2016
Akira Kurosawa's IKIRU ("TO LIVE"; 1952) is not designed for people's entertainment and viewing pleasure. Rather--like the biblical Parable of the Good Samaritan, and like Herman Melville's novelette BARTLEBY THE SCRIVENER and Leo Tolstoy's short novel THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH--this film is intended to wake people up and urge them to reconsider their life goals--and, in most cases, to alter their goals for the better.

The PRIMARY strategy in Kurosawa's film, as in Melville's and Tolstoy's fictions, is to show us an ordinary man suddenly encountering a disturbing NEW experience that forces him to reassess what "meaning" his life "ought" to have. In IKIRU the protagonist, Kanji Watanabe (played by Takashi Shimura), is a city government's department supervisor--a man who has been coasting along for almost 30 years, complaisantly self-centered, shuffling papers, often passing the buck, and never taking any initiative. And then, abruptly, like Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych, he learns that he has a fatal cancer and only has a short time to live.

Fortunately for Mr. Watanabe, after a short period of pleasure seeking, he is given some excellent advice by a perceptive young woman--and with new determination he decides to do something in his remaining time to benefit people in his community.

And then, a few months later, he dies.

The SECONDARY strategy of Kurosawa's film is to show us a huge array of city officials and their subordinates who knew and/or worked with Mr. Watanabe. These people, at a tribute dinner, argue about every facet of Watanabe's efforts to benefit others during his final months: Did Watanabe know or not know that he was dying? Did Watanabe really accomplish anything, or were some other people, especially the mayor, the real benefactors? Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. ... for nearly FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES.

After dozens of people have voiced their views, a consensus is finally reached ... and many of them assert that THEY, like Mr. Watanabe, will from now on do their best to help the public by cutting red tape and pushing worthy projects through to completion.

And then, in a very brief scene we are shown they have either forgotten the lesson they learned from Mr. Watanabe's life ... or they are too cowardly to act on that lesson and just cave in to peer pressure ... and continue, ineffectively, exactly as they'd been before. This scene, with its pathetic negative examples of failure to learn and failure to change, is VERY effective as Kurosawa's final strategy to urge us to remember the lesson and to act on it in our own lives.

In my judgment, this film offers us a very worthy life lesson and shows us many poignant, vivid, relevant scenes, including many scenes of ineffective, wasteful and wasted lives (especially within government agencies).

I felt, however, that the "debate" about Mr. Watanabe's life and death in the second section of the film was excessively long and often took us off the main track of the film; that lengthy part of the film could easily have been improved by cutting it by at least 15 or 20 minutes.

Weighing this film's strengths against this weakness, I would give IKIRU a solid "B" grade.
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on 6 October 2015
How would you react if you were told that you had an inoperable cancer and that you had 9-12 months to live? How would you feel if you looked back over your life and realised that you had squandered it. You have made no decisions at work and your wife is dead and your only offspring is indifferent to you and when you try to tell him of your illness, he concerned that you might squander your fortune in night clubs? Your life may not have been as unfulfilling as that, nevertheless, how would you live the rest of your life? What would you do or think in those last months?

Those pivotal questions above, Mr. Watanabe asks himself. He is the main character in "Ikiru[i],”Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film about a bureaucrat who has worked most of his life at Tokyo City Hall. He has become the chief of his section. Along with his many assistants, he shuffles and stamps papers, but decide nothing and defer the complaints of their citizens to other departments.
When Mr. Watanabe asks his doctor to tell him the truth about his condition, the doctor evades telling him the truth. The doctor has treated him, like he has treated the many, who came to his department with complaints, requests and inquiries. Like those women who had returned many times pleading that a marsh near them, be drained and turned into a children’s playground.
That night he wanders around Tokyo. He is not sad that he will die soon but is sad because he has never lived. He tells a stranger that he has money but does not know how to have a good time. The stranger takes him to gambling parlours, dance halls and the red light district, and finally to a bar where the piano player calls for requests and the old man asks for "Life Is Short--Fall in Love, Dear Maiden."
Mr. Watanabe sings Isamu Yoshii's song in a monotone voice and all the reverie stops and the young consider their own lives.
"Life is brief. Fall in love, maidens, Before the crimson bloom fades from your lips, Before the tides of passion cool within you, For those of you who know no tomorrow.
Life is brief. Fall in love, maidens, Before his hands take up his boat, Before the flush of his cheeks fades, For those of you who will never return here.
Life is brief. Fall in love, maidens, Before the boat drifts away on the waves, Before the hand resting on your shoulder becomes frail, For those who will never be seen here again.
Life is brief. Fall in love, maidens, Before the raven tresses begin to fade, Before the flame in your hearts flicker and die, For those to whom today will never return.
Until now Mr. Watanabe has been invisible and just barely alive. A vibrant women employee of his asks to have her resignation stamped so that she can do something with her life. She does not want to bury her life at his office where everything is predictable. He wishes that he could live just one day like she does.
He returns to his office and when the women return about their marsh he goes to look at it and then decides to champion their cause through the swamp of politicians and bureaucrat. He is determined and focused on this park.
Dylan Thomas stanza could be applied to Mr. Watanabe:’
“Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightening they
Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Mr. Watanabe dies just after he marsh is drained and the park built. We feel that he has redeemed himself.
Maybe some are blessed to be following their bliss and have used their talents in attempting impossible things. But for one as me who has squandered my life, Ikiru, asks me to pursue my unique task, quest or mission with the passion of Mr. Watanabe. (By way of an aside, I was at the house of a friend who expressed the desire to paint, but had no studio. We were sitting is a spacious room with a large window facing north. I asked, why not here? I recalled Van Gogh , starved and sick and getting up at 3 am to sketch the miners going to work in the Borinage).
I too might be told some time that I have only six months to live. As Mr. Watanabe’s song:
“Life is brief …
Before the flames in your heart flicker and die
For those of you who know no tomorrow.”
The last we see of Mr. Watanabe is him at night swinging on a swing in the park. He did go gentle into that good night. Will you?

Striving for aequanimitas,
John Mary Meagher (author of Medicine, Mistakes and the Reptilian Brain)
[i] "Ikiru” means to live in Japanese.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 November 2013
So says Yunosuke Ito's exuberant (and drunk) Writer (a 'soul-saving Mephistopheles') to Takashi Shimura's 'doomed' widow and bureaucrat Mr Watanabe, the latter who has recently learned he has only a matter of months to live (despite the duplicitous mumblings of doctors) due to stomach cancer. This brilliantly perceptive, low-key, non-period 1952 drama co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa is a morally complex, reflective tale (at times satirical) of a man's (final) confrontation with his place in the world, with all its mundanity and cruel deceptions.

Of course, at the centre of Ikiru is a bravura performance from Kurosawa-regular Shimura, whose sudden realisation of his own mortality drives him, first, in search of some short-term hedonism and then later to seek some form of personal 'lasting' redemption. Shimura`s turn here is mesmerising and moving (the man's eyes staring straight to camera create an unforgettable image) as he is gradually transformed from a fawning, 'manner-driven', regretful 'bean-counter' mired in a job of government bureaucracy to a determined 'doer', who will let nothing (and no-one) stand in the way of his final ambition (the construction of a new children's playground - a proposal initially frustrated by his own government department). Along the way Kurosawa caustically satirises Watanabe's society - from the government 'wastrels' passing papers (and the buck) between departments in order to avoid responsibility (an environment which Watanabe has tolerated for 30 years), the scheming, glory-seeking deputy mayor (superbly played by Nobuo Nakamura), the cowardly, misdiagnosing hospital doctors, Watanabe's uncaring and mercenary son and daughter-in-law and even the (ultimately craven) organised criminals who attempt to scupper the 'liberated bureaucrat's` playground plan.

Throughout, Kurosawa's eye for perceptive social detail is unfailing. Watanabe's encounters with the two 'positive' characters, Ito's Writer and Miki Odagiri's kindly young (ex-)co-worker, Toyo, are brilliantly observed - the former an irrepressibly positive philosopher, who warns Watanabe against chasing 'loose' women ('These girls are the greediest of all mammals') and whose encounter includes Watanabe's memorable and moving night-club rendition of an old romantic song, and the latter, whose bubbly personality and friendliness (for example, during the endearing scene in which she tells Watanabe about the nicknames ascribed to his work colleagues, including his, The Mummy) allows her to, at least temporarily, overcome her embarrassment at being seen 'socialising' with 'an old man'.

The other masterstroke Kurosawa employed for Ikiru was his idea for the film's final 40 or so minutes - an extended wake for Watanabe, after his passing, at which a gathering of family and work associates (including the deputy mayor) reflect on the deceased's achievements during the final stages of his life. This satirical exchange is almost Bunuelian in its sense of surreal parody, as the attendees, increasingly drunk and tearful, modify their perceptions of their erstwhile colleague (via a series of flashbacks revealing the true course of events) from 'interfering busybody' to an iconic and heroic figure that all should attempt to emulate. That Kurosawa makes it clear that no such thing is likely to follow as Watanabe's co-workers return to their 'old ways', whilst we are left with the sight of the 'newly redeemed' swinging (on a child's swing) amidst the falling snow in memorable self-satisfaction, provides a poignant, if resignedly realistic, ending to one of the great films of Japanese cinema.
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on 24 March 2009
First you have to say that even second-rate Kurosawa is ten times better than first-rate almost-anyone-else, but I still find it hard to share the undiluted enthusiasm of most of the reviewers here. I won't go over the plot again, but concentrate on the way the story is filmed.

Although this is a movie about a middle-aged man, it's also about the whole of Japanese society. This is 1952, the Americans are still everywhere, everything which Japanese people believed in has been defeated and humiliated, where are the eternal values? How should society be rebuilt? In a sense, all Kurosawa's movies are a response to his wartime experience, and the Bombing in particular, but this, like "Drunken Angel" Drunken Angel [1948] [ASSORTMENT PARENT] is a very direct wrestling with the dilemmas, through the story of an individual who finds redemption.

This is a film of two halves; the first follows bureaucrat Kenjo Watanabe (a luminous performance from Takashi Shimura) from his diagnosis with stomach cancer to the the moment he decides he can do some good in the world with the little time left to him. The second half centres on his funeral party, the guests, his fellow-bureaucrats, remembering how he realised his final project while getting progressively more drunk. To me these two halves do not gel, and the first part is the more interesting, in that the stages Watanabe goes through are utterly convincing, unheroic, and involve taking several wrong turnings before he finds the right path. By the time we reach the point of his decision, we already know that his quest will change nothing - the bureaucracy will still win and paralysis will rule. In this sense, most of Part 2 is redundant, and the structure which worked so well in "Rashomon" Rashomon [1950] [Special Edition] [DVD] here slows down the movie dreadfully; the drunk scene is frankly repetitious and interminable.

In one sense you wish that Kurosawa had just cut from the moment the worm turns to the completed project, end of film. But by doing this you would lose three haunting, vintage Kurosawa moments: the scene where the women who benefit from Watanabe's campaign burst into the all-male funeral party and real emotion cuts through the pretension and hypocrisy of the civil servants (Kurosawa ia always a Feminist director); the moment where Watanabe's one colleague who might conceivably carry on his rebellious sense of wanting to do something rises to protest against his new Chief's inertia, realises it's hopeless, and sinks back into his seat literally buried in files; and the third, which will always live with me, is Watanabe at the end of the film, swinging gently to and fro in the playground and singing an old Japanese song to himself. There are few more life-affirming moments in movies.

Kurosawa is an object lesson in the movie rule, "Don't tell me, show me." He constructs images which say more than ten pages of dialogue. But then he proceeds to give you the dialogue anyway, particularly in the earlier movies. It's as if he lacks confidence in his own genius. It's one of those movies when you spend the last thirty minutes thinking "This is the moment it's going to end".

So don't expect another "Throne of Blood" or "Seven Samurai"; but it's still pretty extraordinary.
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on 13 December 2015
Hi well i am not a film critic but like to thonk i know something about it as its a, complex, subject i take a g8t deal of interest in. Kurosawa( "7 Samurai").is a legend of cinema. Besides "7 Samurai " their are many other wonderfull films of his set in medieval Japan. He also explored more contemporary times in film of which "Ikiru"(Living) is an example. Kurosawa is an "art house" director which in my opinion is the highest form of the cinematic art. This is a-bit of!-a specialist area. This can put people of; thinking its to difficult. ,On first encountering art house cinema yrs ago, I recall being struck by how accessible they were; and,not being mediated thru the Hollywood star system,so REAL This film, in my opion, is undoubtedly an example of the ART of cinema at its best.
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on 21 October 2006
Akira Kurosawa made Rashomon in 1950, Ikiru in 1952 and The Seven Samurai in 1954. All these films have quite a complex structure. Yet Ikiru remains a very simple film, which says nothing original: it's not what is shown, but how, that is important, as in Flaubert's story "A Simple Heart". It will be appreciated best by those who've realised they're going to die (you'll know what I mean). Watching Ozu's Tokyo Story beforehand will prepare you for the subtle style. In Ikiru five themes are interwoven:

1. Learning to accept death

At the start of the film Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) learns he has stomach cancer and has six months to live. He has retreated into his work after his wife's early death and become devoted to routine. The camera shows us several shots in closeup of Shimura's face after he speaks to his doctor, and we see the anguish in his eyes. It's not fear he shows: it's horror, horror of what his life has become. The shock of his wife's death has caused him to stop living. The shock of his own coming death makes him realise he must start to live: only then will he be ready to die. There is a contrast in the documentary style depiction of the hospital scenes and Watanabe's office compared with the closeups of Shimura, hunched up with horrified realisation or showing eyes that are black pools of despair. This is the hardest thing to do in any art form: this is simplicity, and the effect is overwhelming, the acting superb.

2. Placing value in your life

Watanabe has not much expertise in how to live. His son Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko) and daughter-in-law Kazue (Kyoko Seki) share his home but not much else. Watanabe cannot speak to them about his cancer. Cast out on his own resources, Watanabe tells a complete stranger (Yunosuke Ito) what he could not tell his son. He asks his burning question, how can I live? The two drunken men go and sample what they imagine is life: drinking shops, reviews, dance halls, strip clubs. This is desperate living, another way of dying. Watanabe brings the whole thing to a halt when he requests a pianist to play an old song, and sings the words, about young girls who fall in love and how they should enjoy that love for life is short. Perhaps it was a favourite of he and his wife when they first met. The melody is haunting, and is Watanabe's theme at several key points in the film. Later Watanabe sees Toyo (Miki Odagiri) one of his office colleagues. Watanabe is exhilarated by her joyous love of life, her enthusiasm, even her appetite. Perhaps she will teach him how to live. She teaches him he cannot live by proxy. Watanabe finally discovers fulfillment in doing good for others by using his position at work. Kurosawa opens out the sets progressively. We see the small rooms of Watanabe's house, then the cafe and dance hall scenes at night, then the streets and shops by day, then finally offices, streets and slums as Watanabe moves between the company of government heads of departments, yakuza trying to extort money from them, fellow bureaucrats, workmen and slum dwellers in his quest to have a children's park built. Giving meaning to your life is within everyone's scope, no matter how narrow that scope may be, and enlarges it. There is a touch of the moralist here, but we are liable to forget it as we watch Shimura, small, fragile, bowed over with pain, absolutely determined to make others respond. And they do.

3. The dangers of grief

How did Watanabe become the man he is? In his bedroom is a photo of a young, attractive woman, his wife. In a flashback sequence we see her funeral, learn she died unexpectedly when her son was only five or six years old. The beautiful has vanished. This is a theme with haunting overtones in Japanese culture. That power, greatness, beauty is transient can teach us how to live more deeply. But Watanabe has given the dead woman his love and now he cannot stop grieving. In Watanabe's bedroom the photo is next to his citation for exemplary attendance at work. In the funeral car Watanabe watches as the hearse draws further away from him: it's a distance he has tried to deny ever since.

4. The entropy inherent in large structures

Watanabe started his bureaucratic life with ambitions to reform. His idealistic report is mouldering away in a bottom drawer. But he's working in a place where the only activity is the filling out of reports, not the achieving of change. It's a kind of tomb. Here no one will accept responsibility; anything unusual, such as the request of a group of neighborhood mothers that a swamp be filled and made into a playground, is frantically passed on to another department. This is not merely satire. The government, of the country as of the local region, is behaving as Watanabe, withdrawing from living and substituting empty formalism in its place. It is no accident Watanabe is head of a department. If we want to we can ask, is it my problem too? The moralist is much more in evidence here.

5. The political response we have to others' actions

That Watanabe is not the entire subject of the film is made clear as his death occurs halfway through it. We see the Buddhist wake. The guests at the wake at first give lip service to Watanabe's virtues, then the politicians among them compete for the credit of building the park. The workers in Watanabe's department discuss who will be the next head. The group of petitioners are admitted to pay their respects. They say nothing; but they are grateful. In Japan it matters how the dead are thought of. Kurosawa shows that all the survivors, even the grief stricken, are motivated by personal considerations. He shows this to be natural and inevitable, while satirising more extreme manifestations of it. The mourners cannot give meaning to their life by praising Watanabe though; they will need to strive as hard as Watanabe had: most of them won't. There is a social dimension of our actions, as of our inactions. Kurosawa wants viewers of his film to be at that wake too, and reflect on what Watanabe's life and death meant.

Watanabe dies in his playground. He sits on a swing, and sings his song of young girls who fall in love. It is snowing. Watanabe is happy, not because of the playground, not because of the song. He has found something vital. What makes Ikiru an important film is that viewers who watch it can understand just what he has found.
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VINE VOICEon 11 January 2008
The age and condition of this film -- it's subtitled and it's in black and white and the pictures are not necessarily sharp either -- may make it slightly difficult to watch, but if you can get into it, it's worth the effort. Unlike Kurosawa's other favourite lead actor, Shimura is less well known and undeservedly so. In "Ikiru", he shines as the heretofore faceless, plodding bureaucrat who finds out he has a terminal disease. Rebelling against his dull existence to date, he breaks out of his rut to try to live before he dies: he grabs first at a worldly writer and then an artlessly modern young girl to show him how to do it and finds out before the end that his own position in local government will provide him with the answer. The film should be morbid, but as its title indicates it could hardly be less so: it has its moments of black humour and honest sentiment. Even as death slaps the film's hero with a sudden, imminent end, it focuses him as well on living.

The stultifying pace of petty bureaucracy and its almost instinctive inaction; the frustration of ordinary citizens trying to get someone to do something; the manouverings, self-aggrandizing, and deceptiveness of politicians; the menacing gangsters even -- all came across as distinctly Japanese and yet very familiar. I found myself rooting for Watanabe and the women petitioning for a park, loathing the oily Deputy Mayor, cringing from the threatening criminals trying to sabotage Watanabe's efforts, despising the sycophantic co-workers Watanabe left behind, and wanting to slap Watanabe's self-centred son, Mitsuo, and his petty wife.

I laughed, I smiled, I sneered, I cried. It's a story about an ordinary man, an ordinary life, an ordinary death, and what counts as living.
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on 21 October 2014
Couldn't get into this film. Very long winded. It's very arthouse. It was very slow to get going and could have been cut down considerably and still have got the general gist of the film over. The main character of the film I did like and empathise with but I just found myself drifting away from the story and thinking about other things. Not one of my faves.
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