Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ikiru (1952)

TOP 100 FILMS: #5

Government worker, and widower, of nearly 30 years, Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), learns he has stomach cancer, and only a few months to a year of life left. As he confronts the realization of his impending death, he must also confront another fact: what has he truly done all these years?

"I can't afford to hate people. I haven't got that kind of time."

What does it mean to live? Is it breathing? Is it work? Work keeps you busy, sure. But what are you really doing? Are you actually living, or merely passing time? If you're passing time, then what for? Death? Is that all living really is? Passing time until we die?

In our daily lives maybe once a year we confront questions of this nature. And what do we do? We deal with it for a couple of days, self loathe, and then we go back to work. We stamp forms, file paperwork, double check forms, file more paperwork. But what in the world are we really doing? Is it true that it's not until were are actually forced to face death that we really feel any desire to do anything about life? Why can't we live our lives everyday? Perhaps because we live in a world in which doing anything but nothing is considered strange (as Ikiru so finely puts it). To do anything else would be... hard.

Don't worry I'm not quizzing you. Instead I'm addressing something of grave importance. You see I'm going to openly give you right off the bat that Ikiru is not a perfect film. It's last half hour splits more audiences than a Zach Snyder marathon, and it's rather long-winded. So there, you have that. Good for you. Now what? Ikiru didn't become #5 on my list because it was perfectly well written, or because it's direction was so jaw dropping, or its acting beyond dynamic. It got there for one reason: Regardless of who you are, Ikiru is among the top 5 most important thematic films you should have to watch at least once in your life.

"I have less than a year to live. When I found that out... somehow I was drawn to you. Once when I was a child, I almost drowned. It's just like that feeling. Darkness everywhere, and nothing for me to hold onto, no matter how hard I try. There's just you."

Ikiru is not an answer key to life. If you find an answer, it's your own, not the films. For every move forward, there's a move backward. For every move backward, there's a move sideways. Ikiru is instead a film that challenges you to find out what it means to truly live. All through the scope of Kanji Watanabe trying to find what it means for himself. He tries a wild night out only to be left empty and tired. He tries spending time with a young ex-coworker who now works in a factory, certain she has figured out something he doesn't understand. But he still can't grasp it.

And when he's finally found what he needs to live, Kurosawa cuts us off. Why? Why the sudden shift? Because nobody can understand what it means to live through the viewpoint of a single individual. Now we must address life from the viewpoint of all those closest to him. Why did they not know? What did he see that they don't see? Is it too late for them to change? In this world, can they truly change at all?

Ikiru is the kind of movie you never forget, unless you go in determined to. Takashi Shimura's performance reaches deep into the heart of the viewer and never lets go. His singing of Gondola no Uta comes from the very depth of human struggle. So powerful and moving, not even those in the same scene as him can handle it's true strength. And as each new individual runs into him they must also confront what life means to them.

But don't let that fool you. Ikiru is not a movie about someone finding what it means to live, and changing everyone around him. Ikiru confronts head on the very fact that it's so hard to change until you have nothing to lose. And Kurosawa is there to capture each transition, each memory, each struggle a man, and those he most readily effects, have. That's why I love Ikiru. That's why I watch it time and time again.

Perhaps life is meaningless. Perhaps life is about what you leave behind. Perhaps life is about what you do. Perhaps it's all of those and none of them. Who knows? Ikiru is going to show you all of them. And now it's up to you to decide: what does living mean?

I'll grant you Ikiru is flawed, and I'll simply reply I really don't care. Ikiru is the rare kind of film so well written, thought out, and composed it hits you at the very fabric of your being. It's throws its questions right at you, and you have to decide. Can I do what this character did? Should I do what he did? And that's its brilliance. If you come away from Ikiru unchanged, unmoved, or without real introspective, then you're the very kind of person it criticizes.

Alternate Perspectives:

"Some characters triumph, others die, but they all realize that the world is evil and try to do something about it. In a world of rote and banality, these characters decide to actually live." - Not Just Movies

"The visual beauty of Ikiru cannot be denied. Few films I've seen are better shot, better acted and more emotionally honest. Unfortunately, unlike Rashomon, I can't forgive Ikiru's contrivances." - Brian's Film Review Blog

4 better thoughts:

Castor said...

I only read the beginning of your review. Just those few sentences convinced me to give this a shot ;)

Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

I loved this movie but it has been so long since I have seen it. I really need to watch it again sometime soon.

Alex said...

This is a really beautiful review. I have to see this movie.

Univarn said...

@Castor Thanks :). I hope it works for you!

@Rick I think so. My first view of it was a bit rocky, but I really enjoyed it one the second viewing. The subtleties Shimura adds are just amazing (as Brian whose blog is linked pointed out - his character's seemingly constant dead stare).

@Alex thank you! I hope you enjoy it when you get the chance.

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