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IKIRU

Director: AKIRA KUROSAWA

JAPAN • 1952 • SUBTITLED • BLACK AND WHITE • 142 MIN


THE GREAT JAPANESE DIRECTOR AKIRA KUROSAWA’S POIGNANT 1952 MASTERPIECE ‘IKIRU’, WHICH IS BEING RE-RELEASED IN A NEW PRINT, IS BOTH A TRAGICOMEDY ABOUT HOW OUR BEST INTENTIONS ARE MISINTERPRETED AND AN OLD MAN’S REACTION TO IMPENDING DEATH.
Kurosawa’s name immediately conjures up the image of a growling Japanese samurai warrior, sword in hand, and most likely played by Toshiro Mifune. But Kurosawa was more than a maker of action movies. Completed after ‘Rashomon’ and before ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘Ikiru’ is the director’s gentlest and most contemplative film, a world away from the tension and excitement of his samurai dramas. ‘Ikiru’ means ‘to live’, and this warmly compassionate film raises the question of what it means to live—and to die.
On learning that he has cancer, elderly civil servant Mr Watanabe (Takashi Shimura in a perfectly calibrated performance) realises he has wasted too much of his own time—and that of others. In his last few months he sets out to find something that will give meaning to his life. Kurosawa undercuts the potential sentimentality of his subject with touches of satirical humour and sharp social observation. Repeatedly taking the story in unexpected directions, he eschews the cliches of ‘uplifting’ melodrama. He even mines a rich vein of wry comedy as Watanabe indulges in the delights of post-war Tokyo with a writer and a young woman. At the same time, however, the film embraces both the essential solitude and the potential generosity of human individuals; the celebrated final shot is at once profoundly affecting and poetically eloquent. This is one of the enduring landmarks of humanist cinema.

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