Ikiru (1952)

AKIRA KUROSAWA

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  , 1952.  .  Screenplay by , .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Film Editing by .  

A mild-manner civil servant (, getting a rare lead role from his frequent collaborator Akira Kurosawa) finds out that he has stomach cancer and will be dead within a year, prompting him to grab at outrageous life experiences, going to a striptease and hitting the bars.  When he runs into the giddy young woman who works at his office and begins a sweet friendship with her, it becomes his obsession until that turns sour when she senses his misery, inspiring him to go for something more permanent and meaningful:  remembering a community project that his office’s bureaucratic nightmare has been indefinitely stalling, Shimura is inspired by the little time he has left to create a legacy.  As magnificent as this story is, played with an unusual level of graceful subtlety for the usually more dramatically expressive Kurosawa, it really becomes something philosophical and original when second act, following the main character’s death, has his life and deeds measured by those who remember (and in many ways, disrespect) him.  This is as close as Kurosawa ever came to making an Ozu film, but with his own brand of rich and effective sentimentality (Ozu would never have allowed for Shimura’s shamelessly expressive face), showing the director in a deeply contemplative mood; Kurosawa struggled with depression and attempted suicide throughout his life, and here he turns his ruminations on life, death and meaning into visual poetry.

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