Ikiru, 1952

Akira Kurosawa uses the camera to distance himself from his subject. In Ikiru, the camera serves as the mirror to his soul. Ikiru is the subtly poignant and heartbreaking story of Kanji Watanabi (Takashi Shimura), a middle aged government bureaucrat who has been diagnosed with terminal gastric cancer. Realizing that he has squandered his life foundering on the morass of trivial existence, he is determined to redeem his wasted life. He attempts to communicate with his son, who abruptly interrupts him with his own petty grievances. He befriends a young employee named Toyo (Miki Odagiri) in an attempt to understand her zest for life (Toyo, in turn, only humors the old man in order to get her exit papers signed). He spends an aimless night out on the town, inebriated, only to be sobered into reality by a nostalgic, elegiacal melody: Life is so short, fall in love, dear maiden , while your lips are still red, and before you are cold, for there will be no tomorrow. He spends his final days overseeing the construction of a neighborhood playground. Ikiru is a simply told, profoundly moving film about the brevity of life and the search for meaning.

Kurosawa uses narrative style to recount the story of a terminally ill man. The film is an anachronistic assembly of anecdotes, vignettes, and personal accounts, which, not only illustrates the timelessness of the story, but also Kanji’s “rebirth” (a similar technique is used in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s White). The deliberate pacing elicits a sense that the story is occurring in real-time. Kanji Watanabe never tells his story: his thoughts, his emotions – his life – unfolds before us peripherally. Nevertheless, we see life, with all its hope and misery, through his languid eyes. Ikiru is the story of humanity, the tragedy of an unremarkable life, the compassionate waking of a world in oblivious slumber.

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