Thursday, February 27, 2014

246. Ikiru/To Live (1952)

Running Time: 143 minutes
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Written By: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Main Cast: Takashi Shimura, Shinichi Himori, Haruo Tanaka, Minoru Chiaki, Bokuzen Hidari
Click here to view the trailer

Note: Please take a few moments to check out the BlogRoll!, which has been on the sidebar of my blog for years now. I've recently updated it and really, there's a ton of good reading to be discovered just by clicking those links. All of the people manning the helms of those blogs, know what they're talking about and they're all putting in hard work that deserves your attention. Now then, on with the show...


I started "Ikiru" on Monday night, to no avail, as I'd been up since 6:30 and dozed off on it. On Tuesday night, I tried again but didn't get any further than the previous night - about twenty minutes. Luckily last night was the season premiere of Survivor, which meant my wife was occupied for two hours, which gave me just enough time to finish this one off. Read on...

This actually wasn't the first time I'd seen "Ikiru", as my wife and I started watching the movies on the IMDB Top 250 list, about seven years ago and it just so happens that, at the time, this movie was near the bottom. It actually took us quite a while to track this one down and I believe we finally found it on the computer. As we huddled around the monitor - in our very first apartment, which was more than likely sweltering hot, all those years ago - we watched the story of Watanabe-san (Shimura), a city official who leads the most mundane of lives. Within the first twenty minutes of the film (believe me, I'm an expert on the first twenty minutes of this film - I watched it twice in twenty four hours) he is diagnosed with stomach cancer. He wanders home, nearly getting run over by a car as he probably ponders his mortality and his years on this Earth and upon arriving, hears his son and daughter-in-law planning to scheme him out of his life savings. From there, Watanabe-san decides that if he's only got six months to a year to live, he better start living. He spends his first night touring a city he'd never seen after dark, with a drunken novelist, who shows him the town and pities him. He introduces him to women - one of whom steals his hat, prompting him to by a new one - and liquor and they end the night with Watanabe singing a sad song called "Life is Brief". From there, Watanabe becomes friends with one of his co-workers and learns that around the office, everyone referred to him as "The Mummy", because that's exactly how he acted - drained of life, robotic motions, no desire. Later, Watanabe-san decides that he wants to accomplish something, so sets out to clean up a local cesspool and replace it with a children's park.


My reaction to "Ikiru" is kind of like that of a child being forced to eat his peas by his mother. It sat on my desk for about a week - I didn't want to watch it because I had seen it before and I didn't remember caring for it THAT much. However, soon I opened up and took my peas. Like the spoiler, bratty child, however, I didn't much care for it and while I didn't spit it out (stop the DVD), I decided I didn't like it, despite the fact that I knew it was good for me. I can see the greatness in "Ikiru" and even see why people herald it, as they do, but that doesn't mean I have to like it! (he said folding his arms and making his "I'm mad" face). I really wanted to like it too and for a while I did. The basic story is a good one. Man gets diagnosed with stomach cancer and decides it time to start living. However, there's something about Kurosawa, as he has this way of turning synopsis' that I'd normally be very into and making me dislike them (see "Rashomon") - not the greatest quality to have. Perhaps he's just not my style and that's okay. In fact, I know he's not my style, but I'm still determined to find one of his that I like, so we can add him to the list with Bogart.

One of the things I really hated was - bear with me here - Shimura's performance. He didn't show quite enough emotion if you ask me (God, they're gonna' crucify me for this one - oh well, won't be the first time). His performance, to me, was just SO robotic. Take for instance the scene where he sings "Life is Brief" in the bar. When the camera pans in tight, just showing us Watanabe's tear filled face, notice that Shimura doesn't blink the entire time. I also had a problem with the fact that he barely delivered his lines audibly, but rather grunted them. Now, granted, there was a language difference, so maybe I'm wrong, but his voice seemed very grumbly and it was annoying and again, emotionless. I realize that for a while, this would be the desired attributes for our character, but once he starts living his life, going out with the girl from his office, his reactions and emotions should have slowly gotten more filled with life, slightly anyway. I don't know, maybe I'm just grasping at straws here, but it was something I thought of while I was watching and wanted to bring it up. I also hated everything after Watanabe's death - the WAY TOO LONG scenes with the city officials talking at Watanabe's wake. It was boring and at that point, I wanted it to just end.

I kind of wish they hadn't killed Watanabe though, to tell you the truth. Normally I'm all for character's dying, as I usually loathe happy endings, but here I think the film should've ended with Watanabe on the park swing and we should have heard nothing of him passing away. That way, we could be left to interpret whether he died or not. Because had they done that, we could have assumed that he actually never had stomach cancer. Think about it - he was told by the doctor it was just an ulcer. The only way he (and we) know he has cancer is because of the old coot in the waiting room who correctly predicts what the doctor will say and tells him what that really means. We could have interpreted the whole movie as Watanabe never actually having cancer and just looking for some excuse to start living his life. I think that would've been a better way to go and while I'm down on "interpret your own ending" endings lately, I really think it would've worked wonders here. Also shave off about forty minutes (preferably the forty minutes at the wake) and this could've been miles better. As it is, I'll stick with Yasujiro Ozu when it comes to getting my human, Japanese films, as he seems to appeal to my tastes much better than Kurosawa and "Ikiru".

RATING: 5.5/10  I guess I should say I didn't HATE it or anything, just disappointed I guess. Kurosawa still has plenty of chances to win me over though and I'll probably do "Ran" before too long.


Guys and Dolls (1955 - Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Earth Entranced (1967 - Glauber Rocha)
Das Boot (1981 - Wolfgang Petersen)
Shaft (1971 - Gordon Parks)
Don't Look Now (1973 - Nicholas Roeg)

February 27, 2014  10:22pm


  1. Hi Andrew..
    How about we just agree it was a tad too long? Then we can carry on pretending we are agreeing?

    I found this quite acceptable.. but will admit to being a tad impatient at times.
    As co-incidence would have.. this is going to be on TV this week.
    (one channel has one slot for world cinema once a week.. and this will be it). So, as I saw this as a rent by post .. I will record and keep to re watch...

    1. Ok, so we're agreeing, but I have a feeling you really liked this one and just aren't saying...

  2. 'really liked' may be going a bit far... 'liked' is closer..


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