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Ikiru


  1. Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
  2. Produced by: Sôjirô Motoki
  3. Written by: Shinobu Hashimoto
    Akira Kurosawa
    Hideo Oguni
  4. Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
  5. Cinematography by: Asakazu Nakai
  6. Editing by: Kôichi Iwashita
  7. Release Date: 1952
  8. Running Time: 143 min
  9. Language: Japanese

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix

Across the 16 years that Arts & Faith has been making Top 100 lists, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) has always been well-represented.  This film has made every list, while earlier iterations have included Rashomon, Dersu Uzala, and/or Ran.  Had we not imposed a "one film per director" rule, 1965's Red Beard would've made this year's Top 100, too.

It's easy to see why Kurosawa is a frequent flyer on these lists, as there are plenty of superb selections in his oeuvre.  Among his 30 films, 18 are indisputable masterpieces, while seven are excellent-to-great.  Stylistically, he was a constant innovator, with rapid-fire editing in his early works yielding to gorgeously-framed long takes in his final seven films.  His scripts, which he always wrote or co-wrote, are stuffed with fascinating characters with complicated inner lives. 

With few exceptions (mainly his jingoistic WW2 films), his work is saturated with evergreen themes of morality and spirituality.  This is true from start to finish:  the protagonist of his debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943)experiences satori enlightenment at a temple, jarring him from selfishness to a path of service to others.  Kurosawa's last film 50 years later, Madadayo, features a virtuous professor surrounded by the visual trappings of Buddhist sainthood.

Watanabe, the central figure in Ikiru (1952)is one in the lengthy processional of Kurosawa protagonists who must battle society's nearly suffocating forces of dehumanization in order to achieve a noble goal.  At the film's open, however, he hardly looks the part of a hero.  Played with painful restraint by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura, Watanabe is a mumbling, shuffling mid-level functionary.  Surrounded by improbably high bundles of paper, with a desiccated mien, Watanabe looks more mummy than man.  Emblematic of his feigned busyness, when a group of local women enter his building and attempt to get a sewage pond drained in their neighborhood, a series of rapid wipes shows their encounters with buck-passing bureaucrat after bureaucrat, until in a darkly comic touch, they're back to the first one again.

It takes a terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer to jolt Watanabe from living death.  The middle third of Ikiru is a pilgrim's progress as he gleans how to spend his remaining months meaningfully.  Under the guidance of a morbid poet in a chiaroscuro-filled sequence, he experiments with profligate hedonism.  

Getting warmer, he next lavishes money and attention on an indigent young woman, before he has his own satori moment.  To the strains of "Happy Birthday," he resolves to force through the drainage of the sewage pond and the construction of a playground in its place.

In a film full of counterintuitive storytelling choices – it opens with anonymous narration over Watanabe's stomach X-ray, after all – the final 50 minutes of Ikiru take place after our protagonist is dead, at his funeral.  As his benevolent photograph gazes downward, saint-like, Watanabe's increasingly drunk coworkers puzzle out his transformation during his final months.  A series of 14 flashbacks reveals him doggedly achieving his quest.  Even as his body weakens, he wades through the bureaucratic mire and smilingly frightens away a group of bullying yakuza.  In contrast to his prior mummy countenance, his face literally glows with joy and determination.

If you hold Watanabe up to Kurosawa's other heroes – Shimura’s or Toshiro Mifune's samurai characters, the tireless hospital staff of Red Beard, the cops solving a murder/kidnapping case in High and Low – he may seem like a hero in a minor key.  Yet I would contend that Watanabe is perhaps Kurosawa's most accessible hero.  Anyone who's worked in a bureaucracy will nod in assent to Ikiru's voiceover that "the best way to protect your place in the world is to do nothing at all."  The manner in which Kurosawa visually isolates his characters by vertical stacks of paper, or confines them in tightly-lensed window frames, conveys the reality that Watanabe is trapped by foes as intransigent as the bandits of Seven Samurai or the conniving factions in Ran.  

Ikiru is Japanese for "to live."  While Watanabe may lack the community, mentors, or intimate relationships fortifying other Kurosawa films, finding a noble task and following it through tirelessly to completion are indisputably two crucial elements to life.  It's no wonder that nearly 70 years after its release, this film still speaks to countless viewers – and consistently asserts its place on our list. 

-   Andrew Spitznas, chief writer and editor at Secular Cinephile

 


  1. Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
  2. Produced by: Sôjirô Motoki
  3. Written by: Shinobu Hashimoto
    Akira Kurosawa
    Hideo Oguni
  4. Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
  5. Cinematography by: Asakazu Nakai
  6. Editing by: Kôichi Iwashita
  7. Release Date: 1952
  8. Running Time: 143 min
  9. Language: Japanese

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix

Across the 16 years that Arts & Faith has been making Top 100 lists, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) has always been well-represented.  This film has made every list, while earlier iterations have included Rashomon, Dersu Uzala, and/or Ran.  Had we not imposed a "one film per director" rule, 1965's Red Beard would've made this year's Top 100, too.

It's easy to see why Kurosawa is a frequent flyer on these lists, as there are plenty of superb selections in his oeuvre.  Among his 30 films, 18 are indisputable masterpieces, while seven are excellent-to-great.  Stylistically, he was a constant innovator, with rapid-fire editing in his early works yielding to gorgeously-framed long takes in his final seven films.  His scripts, which he always wrote or co-wrote, are stuffed with fascinating characters with complicated inner lives. 

With few exceptions (mainly his jingoistic WW2 films), his work is saturated with evergreen themes of morality and spirituality.  This is true from start to finish:  the protagonist of his debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943)experiences satori enlightenment at a temple, jarring him from selfishness to a path of service to others.  Kurosawa's last film 50 years later, Madadayo, features a virtuous professor surrounded by the visual trappings of Buddhist sainthood.

Watanabe, the central figure in Ikiru (1952)is one in the lengthy processional of Kurosawa protagonists who must battle society's nearly suffocating forces of dehumanization in order to achieve a noble goal.  At the film's open, however, he hardly looks the part of a hero.  Played with painful restraint by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura, Watanabe is a mumbling, shuffling mid-level functionary.  Surrounded by improbably high bundles of paper, with a desiccated mien, Watanabe looks more mummy than man.  Emblematic of his feigned busyness, when a group of local women enter his building and attempt to get a sewage pond drained in their neighborhood, a series of rapid wipes shows their encounters with buck-passing bureaucrat after bureaucrat, until in a darkly comic touch, they're back to the first one again.

It takes a terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer to jolt Watanabe from living death.  The middle third of Ikiru is a pilgrim's progress as he gleans how to spend his remaining months meaningfully.  Under the guidance of a morbid poet in a chiaroscuro-filled sequence, he experiments with profligate hedonism.  

Getting warmer, he next lavishes money and attention on an indigent young woman, before he has his own satori moment.  To the strains of "Happy Birthday," he resolves to force through the drainage of the sewage pond and the construction of a playground in its place.

In a film full of counterintuitive storytelling choices – it opens with anonymous narration over Watanabe's stomach X-ray, after all – the final 50 minutes of Ikiru take place after our protagonist is dead, at his funeral.  As his benevolent photograph gazes downward, saint-like, Watanabe's increasingly drunk coworkers puzzle out his transformation during his final months.  A series of 14 flashbacks reveals him doggedly achieving his quest.  Even as his body weakens, he wades through the bureaucratic mire and smilingly frightens away a group of bullying yakuza.  In contrast to his prior mummy countenance, his face literally glows with joy and determination.

If you hold Watanabe up to Kurosawa's other heroes – Shimura’s or Toshiro Mifune's samurai characters, the tireless hospital staff of Red Beard, the cops solving a murder/kidnapping case in High and Low – he may seem like a hero in a minor key.  Yet I would contend that Watanabe is perhaps Kurosawa's most accessible hero.  Anyone who's worked in a bureaucracy will nod in assent to Ikiru's voiceover that "the best way to protect your place in the world is to do nothing at all."  The manner in which Kurosawa visually isolates his characters by vertical stacks of paper, or confines them in tightly-lensed window frames, conveys the reality that Watanabe is trapped by foes as intransigent as the bandits of Seven Samurai or the conniving factions in Ran.  

Ikiru is Japanese for "to live."  While Watanabe may lack the community, mentors, or intimate relationships fortifying other Kurosawa films, finding a noble task and following it through tirelessly to completion are indisputably two crucial elements to life.  It's no wonder that nearly 70 years after its release, this film still speaks to countless viewers – and consistently asserts its place on our list. 

-   Andrew Spitznas, chief writer and editor at Secular Cinephile

 

Across the 16 years that Arts & Faith has been making Top 100 lists, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) has always been well-represented.  This film has made every list, while earlier iterations have included Rashomon, Dersu Uzala, and/or Ran.  Had we not imposed a "one film per director" rule, 1965's Red Beard would've made this year's Top 100, too.

It's easy to see why Kurosawa is a frequent flyer on these lists, as there are plenty of superb selections in his oeuvre.  Among his 30 films, 18 are indisputable masterpieces, while seven are excellent-to-great.  Stylistically, he was a constant innovator, with rapid-fire editing in his early works yielding to gorgeously-framed long takes in his final seven films.  His scripts, which he always wrote or co-wrote, are stuffed with fascinating characters with complicated inner lives. 

With few exceptions (mainly his jingoistic WW2 films), his work is saturated with evergreen themes of morality and spirituality.  This is true from start to finish:  the protagonist of his debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943)experiences satori enlightenment at a temple, jarring him from selfishness to a path of service to others.  Kurosawa's last film 50 years later, Madadayo, features a virtuous professor surrounded by the visual trappings of Buddhist sainthood.

Watanabe, the central figure in Ikiru (1952)is one in the lengthy processional of Kurosawa protagonists who must battle society's nearly suffocating forces of dehumanization in order to achieve a noble goal.  At the film's open, however, he hardly looks the part of a hero.  Played with painful restraint by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura, Watanabe is a mumbling, shuffling mid-level functionary.  Surrounded by improbably high bundles of paper, with a desiccated mien, Watanabe looks more mummy than man.  Emblematic of his feigned busyness, when a group of local women enter his building and attempt to get a sewage pond drained in their neighborhood, a series of rapid wipes shows their encounters with buck-passing bureaucrat after bureaucrat, until in a darkly comic touch, they're back to the first one again.

It takes a terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer to jolt Watanabe from living death.  The middle third of Ikiru is a pilgrim's progress as he gleans how to spend his remaining months meaningfully.  Under the guidance of a morbid poet in a chiaroscuro-filled sequence, he experiments with profligate hedonism.  

Getting warmer, he next lavishes money and attention on an indigent young woman, before he has his own satori moment.  To the strains of "Happy Birthday," he resolves to force through the drainage of the sewage pond and the construction of a playground in its place.

In a film full of counterintuitive storytelling choices – it opens with anonymous narration over Watanabe's stomach X-ray, after all – the final 50 minutes of Ikiru take place after our protagonist is dead, at his funeral.  As his benevolent photograph gazes downward, saint-like, Watanabe's increasingly drunk coworkers puzzle out his transformation during his final months.  A series of 14 flashbacks reveals him doggedly achieving his quest.  Even as his body weakens, he wades through the bureaucratic mire and smilingly frightens away a group of bullying yakuza.  In contrast to his prior mummy countenance, his face literally glows with joy and determination.

If you hold Watanabe up to Kurosawa's other heroes – Shimura’s or Toshiro Mifune's samurai characters, the tireless hospital staff of Red Beard, the cops solving a murder/kidnapping case in High and Low – he may seem like a hero in a minor key.  Yet I would contend that Watanabe is perhaps Kurosawa's most accessible hero.  Anyone who's worked in a bureaucracy will nod in assent to Ikiru's voiceover that "the best way to protect your place in the world is to do nothing at all."  The manner in which Kurosawa visually isolates his characters by vertical stacks of paper, or confines them in tightly-lensed window frames, conveys the reality that Watanabe is trapped by foes as intransigent as the bandits of Seven Samurai or the conniving factions in Ran.  

Ikiru is Japanese for "to live."  While Watanabe may lack the community, mentors, or intimate relationships fortifying other Kurosawa films, finding a noble task and following it through tirelessly to completion are indisputably two crucial elements to life.  It's no wonder that nearly 70 years after its release, this film still speaks to countless viewers – and consistently asserts its place on our list. 

-   Andrew Spitznas, chief writer and editor at Secular Cinephile

 


  1. Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
  2. Produced by: Sôjirô Motoki
  3. Written by: Shinobu Hashimoto
    Akira Kurosawa
    Hideo Oguni
  4. Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
  5. Cinematography by: Asakazu Nakai
  6. Editing by: Kôichi Iwashita
  7. Release Date: 1952
  8. Running Time: 143 min
  9. Language: Japanese

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix
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