Ikiru is the story of Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a middle-aged petty bureaucrat who learns that he is dying. The film is about him trying to find some meaning in his life.
The next day, Kanji finds himself drawn a young woman he meets at the office. She seems energetic and vibrant, and he starts to spend time with her. But she eventually begins to wonder what he’s after. He then asks her what makes her so happy and she tells him, but she also tells him that he needs to find a purpose in his own life; he can’t just take someone else’s purpose.
In the ending, a group of co-workers, family and friends meet at his wake and they discuss, from their self-centered perspectives, how his behavior changed before he died. I have never wanted to punch a couple film characters more in my life.
This Is An Amazing Film
This is the only film I have ever seen that has received a 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and it is well deserved. Once again, Kurosawa is at the top of his game in terms of storytelling and getting us to delve into what makes us who we are. At its core, this film is about how we live and how we find meaning in our lives, something we all struggle with. As if that were not interesting enough, however, Kurosawa also gives us so much more.
For example, the film criticizes the attitudes that most of display in our daily or professional lives. The film criticizes our penchant for being self-absorbed and ignoring people who we view as not important. It attacks the greed of Kanji’s family, which is a form of greed any lawyer has seen play out in thousands of families. It attacks bureaucratic laziness and fear. It attacks the “don’t make waves” attitude. And best of all, it tells us that if you truly understand what is important in life, then none of the things the rest of society values really matter.
This is a revolutionary message, particularly in conformist Japan, but even here. This is the message that tells us both how to change the world and why to change the world. It is that second part that you never see tackled in films and which so many people will never understand.
Indeed, the fact that many people will never get this is put on display at the ending, when Kanji’s oblivious friends and family and coworkers struggle to put Kanji’s life back into a box that they can understand rather than understanding why he really did what he did... a behavior that many of us will have seen by the oblivious people in our own lives.
It’s amazing writing.
You need to see this film.