My odyssey of catching classic Kurosawa films on the big screen continued
tonight with my viewing of "Ikiru" (meaning To Live) at the Detroit Film
Gorgeous, touching, funny and heartbreaking are the best words to describe
film, and if you don't come away from it without even so much as a goosebump,
then you simply aren't human. I welled up on more that one occasion during
It tells the story of Mr. Watanabe, played with heartbreaking brilliance by
Shimura, who, two years later would go on to play the venerable samurai Kambei
in Seven Samurai.
Mr. Watanabe has been the Section Chief at City Hall Public Relations for 30
years. And in all that time, he's never missed a day, never taken a vacation
never done anything unexpected. Simply spending day after day stamping
endless piles of government paperwork in and endless cycle of beaurocracy.
However, a visit to his doctor reveals that he has stomach cancer and has 6
months to a year left to live.
From that moment on, Watanabe begins to question the purpose of his life. Why
he's spent 30 years at the same desk doing essentially nothing. Making no real
changes in his life or in the community in which he works. His eyes are
and he becomes terrified at the prospect of dying and ineffectual, forgotten
At first he decides to live his life as never before. Spending as much money
can on wine and women. Thinking that immersing himself in a hedonistic
will somehow make up for years of nothing.
He comes to realize that "living it up" is not living after all. It soon
repetitious as the job that has stolen most of his life. He realizes he has to
something behind, something he would be remembered for. A legacy.
After spending a few days in the company of a vivacious young girl who once
worked at his office, he comes to the realization he needs to create
he decides to champion the cause of getting a local sewage pond cleaned up and
turned into a public park.
Watanabe becomes a man reborn with a newfound passion for life. He meets the
beauraucratic opposition at City Hall head-on. Working tirelessly to give
something back to the people before he dies. All the while, telling no one of
illness. Including his ungrateful son and his wife, who are interested in
more than their inheritance.
The film has such a basic but powerful message. Which is, when you look back
your life, what have you accomplished? And that people generally don't think
about such things until their faced with their own impending death. Which is
Watanabe's radical change in behavior is such a mystery to his co-workers and
his son. They even begin to think he's gone a bit mad, but were they to see
world through his eyes, it would all be very much different.
What can I say? It's Kurosawa. Sans samurai or Tishiro Mifune but Kurosawa
nonetheless. This film is incredibly moving and deeply philosophical. It
moved me and really made me pause and take a look at my own life.
If you want to try to put your own life in perspective, see Ikiru.