Ikiru (1952)

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“A masterwork of burning social conscience and hard-eyed psychological realism”

Time Magazine

The international success of Rashomon gave Kurosawa more creative freedom and he used this to make one of his finest films, Ikiru, which is translated variously as Living and Doomed. It’s the story of a Kenji Watanabe, an office worker, superbly played by Takashi Shimura, an actor can be seen in almost every Kurosawa film but who rarely played a leading role. This ‘ordinary’ bureaucrat, in late middle-age, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the news leads him to re-assess his life, and to his determination to achieve something worthwhile before he dies.

The film is one of Kurosawa’s most humanistic, but also one of his most ironic as the later sequences indicate. The director said that the film was inspired by thoughts of his own death and of the legacy he would leave behind him. The most important aspect of the film lies in the fact that we do not see ourselves as others see us, so that Watanabe’s aspirations are misconstrued, or simply unappreciated, by his colleagues. It’s a film that can be interpreted in more than one way, and in that sense it can be compared to Rashomon, though in every other respect these two great films of the early 50s could hardly be more different.

Supported by The Japan Foundation