Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
A bureaucrat tries to find a meaning in his life after he discovers he has terminal cancer.
Takashi Shimura is an actor I’ve already bragged about in my recent review of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Well, be prepared to read some more in this new review. They collaborated together eleven times and while Kurosawa was 42 at the time they did Ikiru, Shimura was 47. Of the three most celebrated Kurosawa films you have the aforementioned Seven Samurai, Rashômon, and finally Ikiru or if you prefer translated as To Live. Out of the samurai genre, Kurosawa made some of his most interesting stories and the most philosophically charged ones too. As a Kurosawa enthusiast, I pretty much rank the three film in this particular order. However, with the time and multiple viewings, Ikiru seems like a film that grows with its viewer and develops into something that age, time, experience, and life brings as one of the forefront runners of the emperor’s filmography.
Watanabe (Shimura) learns that he doesn’t have much time to live, he is dying of a cancer. Just like anyone who gets a similar news, he is shocked and reacts strongly. Knowing that he will die brings to him that he did not even started to live yet. Ikiru portrays a two and a half hour quest to find the meaning of this man’s life and his simple but yet touching passage. This is a very humanist tale of understanding the common life of everyone. It faces our inevitable passage through time, aging, and the facing our own death someday.
Shimura delivers a very solid performance and his ability to be a common man just like James Stewart or Henry Fonda makes him one of the most human faces to deliver such a near perfect act. His presence is almost like the one of a ghost who wanders in the final moments of his own life. Knowing that he is doomed by destiny, his encounters are sublime moments of greatness.
As stated in my review about Seven Samurai and Rashômon, my two favourites Kurosawa, Ikiru stands strongly with the sheer brilliance of Red Beard, the colourful Ran and Kagemusha. However, the film that stands out the most after multiple viewings and that sticks in mind just like a master’s lesser known masterpiece, Ikiru might be one of Kurosawa’s most universal film. Released worldwide circa 1960, because it was considered too Japanese, just like Yasujiro Ozu’s films, Ikiru should have deserved its spot on the Sight and Sound Top 25. Highly recommended.