Film Nerd’s Choice: Ikiru
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Takashi Shimura
Synopsis: A the funeral of a city bureaucrat, friends and colleagues squabble over the acts of the deceased in the final months of his life. In flashback, we learn the story of a man discovering he has months to live and desperately seeking to give his remaining days some meaning. He settles on a simple project to get a park established in the city, and pursues that goal with both humility and tenacity.
It was perhaps a decade ago that I first discovered the films of Kurosawa, and since that time I have never seen a poor film that he made, just films of greater of lesser high quality. So any one of his films could have easily been inserted as my favourite foreign language film. They all manage great drama, and many have incredible emotional impact. The Seven Samurai may be his most well regarded, as well as his most copied film, but to go for real quality in his filmography, I cannot help but go back to this gem that is less epic, but no less profound.
For this film, Shimura takes a lead role, having been in almost all Kurosawa films prior and after this one, though normally in roles that play second fiddle to other popular Kurosawa mainstay, Toshiro Mifune. In many ways it is a very muted performance, yet this suits the role perfectly, though when he does lose control in despair it is heart-breaking. He is a man dying, he has not achieved greatness, he is just who he is. It is not his way to stand out, or to make big grand gestures. His success is in dedication, and in a refusal to accept rejection. He appeals to all the officials he needs to get the project to happen, and he simply waits outside their office until he will be seen, no matter how long. It is an incredible portion of the film. These same men squabble to take credit for being responsible for the park, and yet in the end, it was something they sneered at before Shimura’s Kanji got them to do it, often for little other reason than to see him leave.
It is a sad tale… after all, it is the tale of a man’s death… yet it is also a tale of quiet victory. Quite beautifully, the title of the film translates to “to live” or “living”. In a world where it is increasingly difficult to focus on what is important in life, the message of the film is one that can only resonate more strongly. Forgive me for saying it, but it is a film that only improves with age, like a fine wine.
5 stars out of 5