Poignant movie-making is one thing, but to make for a timeless account of how we spend our days is a whole other challenge. Akira Kurosawa does so with ease in Ikiru, a classic piece of his vast filmography that looks to detail the rapidly changing life of a man with a limited time to live. The opening shot sets the scene with such confidence, that it’s hard not to fall in love with Ikiru almost immediately.
The sheer ferocity and strength of Takashi Shimura’s leading performance is a touching reflection on the way we lead our lives. Resoundingly well-orchestrated, Shimura presents a man completely defeated by his diagnosis, with no aim for the final days of his life. He wishes to start living, but has no idea how. Some scenes touch upon this frequently, as he tries to seek out true happiness in the company of limited time. He attempts to find love, bunks off of his job, and does anything he can to seek out some glimmer of hope in a life wasted on bureaucratic expenditure and commitment.
It’d be easy to write off Ikiru as one of many films that highlight a form of mid-life crisis. The weight of the story at hand gives the film a far greater edge than most of the contemporary pieces that look to delve into finding meaning within relatively pedestrian lifestyles. With the lingering, inevitable tragedy, Ikiru sets itself on a heart-wrenching trajectory. The unavoidable fate of the protagonist adds a touch of reality to a film that is so transparent with its messages and meanings. We never stray into moments that feel entirely on the nose, but Kurosawa’s commentary and beliefs are widely visible throughout.
With brief shortcomings from the latter half of its story, Ikiru falls a tad short of being a completely perfect experience. Characters found later in the film lack depth, they feel broadly disengaged from the story so far. The impact of our leading character’s actions felt rather underwhelming thanks to these moments, which are superbly directed by Kurosawa, but not as interesting as I’d hoped for them to be. Nothing in particular stands out about these moments, aside from the collective solidarity and will to do more, but lacking the knowledge to carry out the wishes and actions of this sudden, unexpected martyr.
The same terrors of death and trapped feelings Watanabe as a character presents us is something I worry about for my future self. I don’t want to be stuck in a dead-end job, or a lifeless living where the lights are on but nobody is home. Ikiru did everything within its power to provide no comfort to these worries, only the harsh light of reality as we follow the life of a man who, by the end of it, has tremendous resentment for how he lived. I just hope I don’t turn out like Watanabe. Kurosawa brings a strong message to the forefront of his work here, the idea that no matter how good one man does, it’s rare that the same deeds will be passed on to those next in line. Intensely uncomforting, beautifully performed and so frank and open to its discussion of death and bureaucracy.