For Reel

Ikiru (1952)
January 11, 2016, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Akira Kurosawa
4 Stars
IkiruThe opening shot of Ikiru is an x-ray image of a gastric cancer growing in Kenji Watanabe’s (Takashi Shimura) chest, informing the audience that he has his six months to live. Shortly thereafter, Kurosawa introduces the routine of Watanabe’s office, where a handful of public servants busily work away at nothing at all. It is clear in this contrast that the tragedy of Ikiru is not Watanabe’s impending demise, but that the life behind him has been wasted. Unlike the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa’s sentimental vision doesn’t involve an oppressive sense of “duty” or a need to yield to tradition. Watanabe both neglects his work and his family after the news has come to him, understanding that both have been failures and that he’ll need to seek fulfillment elsewhere. This first act, showing Watanabe’s depression and his failed attempts to get out of it, are aided both by Shimura’s beautifully pathetic performance as well as Kurosawa’s innovative editing techniques that compound past and present in a montage of regret and loss. The second act involves a lengthy wake wherein Watanabe’s co-workers speculate what happened to Watanabe in his final days, and why exactly he was found dead on a park swing. If Kurosawa’s film is undoubtedly sentimental, it does pack some bite in that the men who come to drunkenly empathize with Watanabe are up to the same old routines shortly after his death. The great irony of the film is that it teaches us to live, only most of us are stubborn enough that we’ll continue to act as though we have all the time in the world until we know we don’t anymore.

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