Ikiru (1952)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(in Japanese with English subtitles)

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Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni

Starring: Takashi Shimura and Miki Odagiri

Throughout the next few months, I will be reviewing various films from the filmography of the great, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa is widely known for his samurai action films, most notably Seven Samurai (which is next on my list to review); but, with Ikiru, which means “To Live”, Kurosawa takes a much more sympathetic route. The result produces some of the most heartbreaking sequences and some unique storytelling that is a hit or miss depending on your tastes. One thing is for certain though, the first half of this film is impossible not to love and is easily one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had with a film.

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A man named Kanji Watanabe, a section chief for his community’s City Hall, finds out he has stomach cancer and only has six months (at most) to live. Being an elderly man, this fact wouldn’t bother him so much, until he realizes he has spent his whole life not truly living. Kanji takes sick leave at City Hall and goes on a journey to find meaning in his life.  He spends endless nights with a bartender and a young love interest, who has no real interest in being around this poor, old man, going to strip joints and getting black out drunk. Giving anymore information about this film would spoil the final triumphs of a man truly at the end of his rope.

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The main reason to watch this film is for the brilliant writing and spot-on performances. Takashi Shimura knocks it out of the park with his honest and direct acting. The one problem I had with his acting was his constant need to stare at the ground when he gets sad; which, is made up for through the young Odagari’s mocking insults at it. Kurosawa wouldn’t have let this film be released without it’s amazing cinematography. There is specifically a scene in this film that takes place in a club, where Kanji sings “Life is Brief”, that uses some angles that I found very impressive, even seeing the film over 50 years later.

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There is one major decision that this film made that didn’t blend right for me at first. Ikiru feels like two separate films pushed into one. The first half is without a doubt the best part; but, then the film comes to a dead halt and takes a completely different approach. For me, it felt like I was watching a totally different film other than the flashbacks. It was definitely a unique approach, but being unique doesn’t always work. Kurosawa deserves respect for taking a huge risk that had never been done, but it took time for me to accept the film as it was.

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Ikiru is a film that can only be described as way ahead of it’s time. This ultimately feels like a modern film with modern ideas. Even with the odd storytelling decision, this film still deserves all the praise that it has received. Kurosawa is a director that, though being a Japanese director, creates very Americanized films. If any of his later work is as good as his early projects, I am definitely looking forward to the upcoming films I will indulge myself in. Ikiru is a must watch for any lover of foreign and art films.

Grade: A-

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