Long before John Keating, Poets Society inspired us with the famous line “What will your verse be?”, we had a 50-year-old bureaucrat, who had lived a wasted life, faced death in six months, and asked the same question. In Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, our protagonist finds out that he has contracted stomach cancer, and this leads him in a desperate search to make sense to his life for the remaining days.
A highly recommended watch from anyone who haven’t seen this film yet, Ikiru proves its strength by having you invested emotionally in the protagonist, and then cleverly influence you in a way to re-examine your life. Through the following article, I will cite seven reasons that prove the entertaining charm of Ikiru, if not philosophically provoking, as you experience during the movie a man’s regrets, desperation, and determination in their most honest forms, which can lead to profound impacts on the conscience of the surrounding people.
Just by remembering the name of Akira Kurosawa, we will remember that often his movies conjure images that have a unique storytelling, using a lean filming technique where nothing is wasted and are full of shots that are impactfully memorable. Two aspects to help you appreciate the film, are (1) the purposeful framings, including the close-ups, where the camera acts as a storyteller while the actors are arranged movements are arranged in a strict meaningful architecture, and (2) without giving too much information, how the second act’s characters try to piece together a story, shaped by their own assumptions.
While Akira Kurosawa popular characteristic is considered to be not a stranger to unique storytelling, critics also argue how he was often critical to the Japanese society (that’s for you to decide!) in his films. Bureaucracy does not get cast in a good light in Ikiru, which arguably might represent the Japanese powers in postwar Japan. If you think there are a”hidden messages”, you will definitely enjoy the sequence after the opening!
Movie messages aside, Ikiru has all intentions of getting you identified in the protagonist. You enter the movie knowing his fate, thus partly transforming it into your journey to find your meaning of life too. But rest assured, the film is not heavy in that sense, and does not bog you down from enjoying the story itself.
Opposite to Okuribito, a film that explores the impact of loss on family, Ikiru explores the impact outside the family. Even though our protagonist tries to seek a way to live a significant life compared to other characters out his family, we see how heavily affected these the other protagonists, and the transformations they go through, if any. Furthermore, you will constantly be nudged towards judging the various characters’ way of life!
Moments of laughter, pauses to look at one’s surroundings, these provide the right breathing spaces in the seemingly bleak atmosphere of the film, which seem to remind us to enjoy the little things in our lives too.
The protagonist of this film is acted by Takashi Shimura, who also appeared in the classics Rashomon and Seven Samurai. While Toshiro Mifune might be a favourite, Kurosawa rightly casted Shimura into this role, as Shimura masterfully uses body and facial expressions, and an old tired voice to accurately portray a man going through conflicting emotions. A gargantuan difference from his other roles, proving Shimura to be a most versatile actor.
Some of you may see this ending coming, and the director certainly makes his message clear. (Only one way to find out what this means :) ) But remember, this movie is about you, too. As you get buried (no pun intended) among the papers towards the end, the film seems to steer you into asking yourself, “What would I do if I had six months left?”, while tantalising you with a glimpse of hope and inspiration.