There are very few films that I have seen that I could call a ‘cinematic experience’. Some of the masters of cinema are so-called because of their ability to create that experience. Akira Kurosawa was one of the earliest of these masters who challenged early Hollywood. I’ve seen ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Rashomon’ before this. If I had to rank them, I would say Rashomon has a slight edge over Ikiru because of the difficult theme involved.
In Ikiru, an old bureaucrat, Watanabe discovers that he has stomach cancer. After spending thirty years of his life in an office without taking a break, when death comes knocking on his door, he realizes that his life is empty. He didn’t have the guts to end his life and meets a stranger at a bar to whom he confesses his tragic story. The stranger decides to take it upon himself to teach the old man how to live life during the remaining months. Even after an entire night of fun, Watanabe still feels empty. He cannot talk about the illness to his son and daughter-in-law who don’t care what he does anymore. It is during this time that he meets a lady colleague of his from the office who needs his approval to quit the job. Watanabe becomes totally enticed by the sprightly young girl to whom he eventually asks how ‘to live’. When the girl replies that all she does is work and eat, he becomes disappointed. Suddenly, he finds a cause to live for.
The central character Watanabe was brilliantly portrayed by Takashi Shimura who also appeared in Seven Samurai. Unlike his other films, Ikiru deals with something that we can all relate to still. The futility of wasting ourselves away at a job that we don’t like for our entire lives and being miserly in order to save up for retirement. Another interesting theme was the strained relationship between himself and his son. Watanabe had convinced himself that the thirty years that he spent as a single dad was for his son. What he did not realize that the sacrifice that he made was not asked for and the love that he did not get in return hurt him. Then there was the obvious theme in the form of an inefficient bureaucracy. The city officials who were so busy that they were bored and didn’t get anything done.
Overall, one gem of a film. It is not something that will leave you mesmerised, but it’ll make you think, and Kurosawa is a master story-teller. It left me with a feeling of satisfaction. Wholesome would be the right word.