Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a middle-aged man who has worked in the same monotonous bureaucratic position for thirty years. When he learns he has terminal cancer and has only months to live, he decides to try to find meaning in his life.
We humans are so careless. We only realize how beautiful life is when we chance upon death.
While there have been many films made with characters deciding to turn their lives around after learning they have a terminal illness, Ikiru stands out from them because of its slow and steady approach. Instead of seeing Watanabe live his life to the fullest, we see him struggle to enjoy life knowing it’ll soon come to an end. The film is essentially a character study of a dying man, in how he copes with such news and how he goes about transforming his life for the better before it’s too late. And this film wouldn’t work as well as it does if not for Takashi Shimura’s performance. As the reserved Watanabe, Shimura is able to exemplify just what his character is thinking without having to use words. It’s a subdued performance but a powerful one, especially in the film’s quieter moments.
Ikiru really highlights how often we take our lives for granted, as we believe we have all the time in the world to accomplish what we want to get done. It’s only until we’ve reached the age of retirement that we seem to live our lives fully. Some people aren’t lucky enough to reach that old age, but as the film shows, Watanabe was at least fortunate enough to know there was some time to live life the way he should have lived it all along. Akira Kurosawa paints a fascinating portrait of the meaning of life, showing that there’s not really a universal answer to the question. As the last third of the film shows, with the narrative turning from Watanabe’s perspective to those of the people who knew him, the meaning of life instead depends on the individual person. Our time on Earth is only as good as we make it, and Kurosawa’s film affirms how important our lives are and the effect we can have on others, even if it’s through seemingly small gestures.
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura
Oscar Nominations: N/A
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