Ikiru (1952)

Ikiru (1952), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

First review

Sad bureaucrat in post-war Japan discovers he is dying; his life falls apart and he becomes rudderless until discovering a chance to make some meaning in his life. The second part is told in flashbacks after his death as his family and coworkers try to understand what he did and why.

Tremendous film-making, outstanding in every respect. Gorgeous, gritty composition. Biting political commentary, spiritually moving.

Criterion DVD. Like many of the Criterion Japanese films the commentary track is very useful, although you miss the musical cues when listening.

Second review

Ikiru: "To Live".

Early on we have the bitter comedy of bureaucratic paper shuffling: poor neighborhood mothers want an open sewer repaired so their kids won't be sick. They are kicked from office to office, no one ever even considering helping them. The government office workers don't actually do any useful work.

That is what middle-level chief Watanabe -- a man who "never lived" -- has learned: preserve your place by doing nothing. He is approaching 30 years at work and his ambition and idealism died decades earlier. His office nickname is "The Mummy".

As often happens in life, serious illness focuses the mind and reorients his existence. With only a few months to live, mortality is a terrible thing. In another darkly comic bit, another man harangues him in the hospital waiting room: "When you have fatal stomach cancer they tell you it is just a mild ulcer". Watanabe keeps edging away, but then sees the doctor who tells him it is just a mild ulcer...

Now work seems even more pointless. Doing nothing is not going to save him. What will? He tries to lose himself in the city night life, but that isn't for him. He sings "The Gondola Song", a romantic tune of his youth, very sadly and brings the party to a stop.

Then the example of one of his office workers, an energetic uncomplicated young woman, inspires him.

Remember those mothers with the broken sewer?

The film is 2h23m long and with 50 minutes left we are at his funeral. The sewer has been fixed and a playground built on the spot. Flashbacks show his unremitting dogged begging of the government clerks and officials. After he dies the city officials want credit but the poor people know the truth: Watanabe has become a little saint for them. You could begin to see it in his last days: his vision, his fearlessness, his disregard of honor and reputation.

His coworkers argue the point, but aren't even sure he knew he was sick. In the end it is impossible for them to emulate him, no matter how much some of them want to.

On his last night he sat in the playground swing and sang "The Gondola Song" again, now transcendently happy.

Is mortality a terrible thing?

Familiar cast and crew: the IMDB shows 30 names overlapping with The Seven Samurai (1954), including 16 of the actors. In fact, five of the seven samurai appear. Same composer and cinematographer.

Available on Criterion Blu-ray with a valuable commentary track. The image quality is just fair at best. Still a lot of print damage.

http://watershade.net/public/ikiru.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Ikiru_poster.jpg/426px-Ikiru_poster.jpg