A bureaucrat finds out he has terminal cancer and reevaluates his life, looking for meaning before dying in Ikiru.
After working as bureaucrat for over 30 years, Kenji Watanbe (Takashi Shimura) finds out he has inoperable stomach cancer and less than a year to live. He tries various ways of “living” like partying at night clubs, but gets no satisfaction from it. Finally, he is inspired by a young woman and decides to help people. He helps turn an small pool that residents have been complaining about into a nice playground. After Watanabe’s death, the film continues at his wake with his colleagues deciding to follow Watanabe’s lead and change their own lives, but have difficulty doing so.
When people think of Akira Kurosawa’s films, they likely think of samurai films starring Toshiro Mifune. Ikiru is a drastic departure from that, but still a wonderful little film. I was concerned that Ikiru (which means “To Live”) would be kind of a downer, but it was more comparable to It’s a Wonderful Life than anything droll and too serious. There’s a nice mix of comedy to lighten the mood and the takeaway of the film is entirely positive. The ending of the film was not sad, per se, I found it uplifting.
The film presentation of Ikiru is actually not that great for a Criterion Collection release, which is kind of surprising. There are lots of scratches and noise throughout most of the scenes and the soundtrack had a soft buzzing constantly. I’m assuming these are inherited from the best master available, which is a shame. It would be fantastic to have pristine master that a film that is so beautiful would look beautiful to match. I’m not deriding the Criterion release, Ikiru probably hasn’t looked better, but it’s still a bit disappointing.
I struggle having more to say about Ikiru without going in depth about the meaning of life and how one best lives. The film is about life but it’s also about doing what makes you happy and if helping others in that process works for you, all the better. Ikiru is a touching story and it’s the type of film that seems straightforward but each viewer may have slightly different reactions to the story. For that, I recommend Ikiru, especially for people that think Kurosawa only made samurai films.
I give it 4 Gondola No Utas out of 5.