One of Akira Kurosawa’s greatest achievements is a compassionate and life-affirming meditation on what it means to be alive.
I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently.
Ageing government bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe (played beautifully by Takashi Shimura) learns he has inoperable stomach cancer and a mere 6 months left to live. Never missing a day of work in his 30 years, this grim news sends him on a personal journey to re-evaluate his life and regain the time he lost working away at a job with little personal satisfaction. Through his meeting, firstly with a drunken stranger at a bar and later with a young, spirited female co-worker, Kanji begins to seize the little time he has left and to find meaning in his final days.
Throughout his career director Akira Kurosawa gravitated towards Western literature classics, bringing thoughtful personal visions through his adaptations of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1951), Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Throne of Blood, 1957), King Lear (Ran, 1985), and with Ikiru, a loose adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
After his success with Rashomon, which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1950, Kurosawa had the creative freedom to work on personal projects, picking Ikiru (which translates 'To Live') as his next film. Beautifully shot in black and white by long-time collaborator Asakazu Nakai, the films striking noir-ish use of expressionistic shadow lends the subject matter a darker tone than one might expect for a film that plays like a Japanese version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Ikuru’s propensity for sentimentality is tempered by its solemn examination of a post-war Japan struggling to find its purpose and in its unforgettable final moments offers a haunting look at the indomitable human spirit.
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