Both visually masterful and staggeringly profound and poignant
One of cinema’s greatest character studies- Kane, Raging Bull– the examination of a man’s life. A bit of It’s A Wonderful Life and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Kurosawa adapted Dostoevsky the year before with The Idiot but achieves here a work on the level of those novels he clearly admired
Opens with an omniscient narrator on an x-ray of Shimura’s Kanji Watanabe
Kurosawa’s meticulous mise-en-scene arrangement of Shimura’s character’s office—a fortress of paperwork keeping him captive, a magnificent shot (one of 30-40 art museum up on a wall pieces in the film) from behind his head with the two rows of workers flanking him
A montage of the government bureaucracy runaround—this isn’t just exposition tough as we would come to find out—shred narrative economy and formally Kurosawa would bring the playground full circle in the devastating finale
Shimura gives one of the better performances of the 1950’s- often a physical silent performance, the pained grimace—the vast canvas of face, slumping of the shoulders
A triumph of black and white deep focus photography that passes Wyler and heads squarely into the Welles territory – compositions that may not have have Welles’ playfulness and inventiveness with angles but surely rival them in beauty
The narrative structure is different (and not as earth-shattering) than Rashomon but slyly complex as well—we start with knowing Shimura’s character’s fate, we have the shattering flashbacks of raising his son: the funeral, baseball, appendix, his son going off to war—. He dies at the 92 minute mark in in a 143 minute film – like Citizen Kane here we get multiple opinions and people trying to define a life posthumously- a intriguing and bold structure
The intersecting heads at the bar in the frame at 39 minutes like the famous shot from Bergman’s Persona – which is fourteen years after this, there’s an obstructed window at the bar, the neon signage bouncing off the window of the car during the night of drinking
Another highlight of the deep focus depth of frame foreground/background work is the 74 minute mark with Shimura and the tea in the foreground
There are 30-40 of these- at 83 minutes when Shirmua and the young female former co-worker are at dinner talking there is an entire birthday party going on in the background in deep focus—marvelous work
A dazzler of a shot off a mirror at the funeral
At the 127 minute mark Kurosawa tracks the camera forward slowly admiring the sunset
One of the defining scenes in cinema in the 1950’s is Kurosawa’s shot through the play structure at the 137 minute mark tracking along, creating a frame within a frame (and surrounding labyrinth structure) of Shimura on the swing. It is absolutely breathtaking. It strikes me as one of the greatest single shots and/or frames of the 1950’s along with the opening and closing shots in The Searchers, the opening of Touch of Evil, the 360 green-tinted shot in Vertigo, perhaps a half dozen others.
Between Drunken Angel in 1948 and Red Beard in 1965 it is the only Kurosawa film I believe that does not to feature Mifune. It is largely Shimura’s show as far as acting goes so I don’t see a great role for him though I would have loved to have seen Mifune play the man at the bar.
I adore Ebert—but 1200 words+ on the narrative arc and character- nothing on the deep focus and visual brilliance. I can’t tell if this wasn’t his focus, or he knew he was writing for everyone- not just cinephiles
My favorite scene as well (the one where Shimura sings in the snow)-I remember mentioning it.
If someone told me this was Kurosawa’s best, they wouldn’t get any argument from me. Great example of mise en scene. Did you notice how much visual storytelling there is? The first shot (with the books in his office), tells you all about Shimura’s condition. He is trapped and he hasn’t learnt how to live. Only when he learned he has to die does he learn how to live. (Ikiru translates to “to Live” in English).
Did you also notice the repetition in the movie. The song triggering memories of happiness and nostalgia. It happens 3 times in the movie.
The close ups were also superb in the movie.
Where would you rank this among 1952 movies? I’d have it above Umberto D, maybe even topping Singn’ In the Rain. What do you think?
Wasn’t this the movie Drake called overrated by crying?
@Aldo, I actually agree with everything Drake had said on his 1952 page about Ikiru. The 20 minute male crying adds nothing artistically (except a few good frames). It adds only a little bit of emotion. I patiently wait till the gorgeous breath-takingly jawdropping final song with Shimura in the snow.
What do you think about the movie @Aldo?
@Azman– Yeah it would sound like a nitpick when talking about a film of this quality but that funeral/wake is far from the best part of the film.
Agreed it’s not a bad scene, however its nowhere near the same level as some other scenes in the movie especially the snow scene which comes later on.
@Azman. It’s an amazing movie, i don’t know if it’s called that, but i like the depth of field it has, it is also full of excellent shots, i also agree the best scene is the funeral, i think it is the third or fourth best in Kurosawa, in fact it could very well be the best movie of 1952, Umberto D, Singin ‘in the Rain and Ikiru are pretty close, although i haven’t seen Le Plaisir.
You sounded kind of annoying haha “You’re reviews annoy me sometimes. You try to be to‘ critical and you always look for the ‘artistic value’ from a film. Some good films can be entertaining and extremely emotionally like ikiru “
The funeral scene is long. It has many scenes with flashbacks. The wailing is one of the weaker points of the movie but the snow scene is one of the strengths.
Haha. I forgot about that comment. Some things are best forgotten. I dont know why I said that(maybe I was upset that day). I think that was my first comment on the website a year ago. I didnt know the reviews were written by one person.
I was a bit too passionate about my picks. I didnt respect Drake’s opinion. I was wrong.
@Aldo– haha- it is indeed.
Great to see you positively reevaluating films like this and the Alain Resnais films you wrote about earlier in the year
@Ben Morley— thanks for the comment. Yeah, I mean one major reason I’m seeking these films out now (both Ikiru and the work of Resnais) is it has been ages since seeing them.
Yes, yes, yes, yes! You’ve gotta love it. Swamped now, but I love the review and will respond in depth later. I’ll write a critical exegesis entitled “In Defense of the Male Wail!” Haha
When you get time(after writing your exegesis), could you very briefly explain why you like the male wailing scene-haha. As hard as I try(I saw the movie again yesterday), I see little artistic and emotional value to that scene. It adds very little to the movie. Dont get me wrong, I like it, just not as much as some of the other scenes in the movie.
Is there a character limit on comments? For the second time I wrote something extensive and got error messages when I tried to post. I’ll try breaking it into 2 parts.
Alright, so as I said earlier, I love this review. It covers so much of what makes Ikiru so incredible. You often comment about how you’ve become a better critic in recent years, well the same must be true of me because when I look back at what I wrote 8 years ago when I first (and until now last) saw Ikiru, I was only just skimming the surface of it. Ironically, I think it was the crucible of learning to admire Wes Anderson movies that sensitized me to the pictorial/compositional dimensions of film aesthetics, I don’t think I would have been cognizant of the compositional brilliance of something like Red Beard or High and Low in a previous incarnation of myself, and while I was incredibly moved by Ikiru 8 years ago, returning to it now was a revelation, as it seems to have been for you.
I love the individual images you highlight here, and you’re right that you could have selected several dozen equally brilliant (or nearly) options. I also think you hit the nail on the head with your observations on its structure and how it relates to Rashomon in that regard. If anything is missing it would be that you don’t touch on some of the incredible things Kurosawa does with sound, but then you can’t be expected to cover everything. I will say, I had the exact same thought as you, that if Mifune were to be in this film, he would have to be the author Shimura meets at the bar who takes him on that stylistically dazzling journey through the city he never knew.
@Matt Harris – sorry- there may be a character limit– I’m not sure. There’s a lot to unpack here in your comment.
1. i love that we’re growing as cinema students over the years- I think that’s a good sign.
2. I can’t believe you connected Kurosawa and Wes Anderson here- I’d love to hear more.
3. You could be right about the sound. I vow not to wait another 15 years or whatever before seeing Ikiru again. I feel like I could watch it again tonight.
4. happy to hear we’re on the same page both with the potential casting of Mifune in this role and overall film. Seven Samurai is next– just one of the many I find myself eagerly anticipating.
Now my tongue was in my cheek when I said I’d write an exegesis defending the male wail, and @drake doesn’t even mention it in his review, so apparently it wasn’t as big of an issue this time. However, @azman still seems hung up on it so I guess I’ll try to address it. So just what scene is it that we’re talking about here? There is no “20 minute male crying” scene. I know it became an amusing localized meme here, but it doesn’t exist. The stunningly beautiful sunset/clouds flashback concludes with 15 minutes remaining in the film and the “male wailing” doesn’t commence until a few minutes later and is interrupted within 2 minutes by the arrival of the police officer and the final brilliant flashback. Then we get less than an additional minute of “wailing” and proclamations about how they’ll all change and follow Shimura’s example, before it cuts to the office and business as usual. And all the while, Kurosawa is mocking these men as frauds with his camera by isolating the one genuine member of the office separate from their histrionics. I’m genuinely baffled about what we’re complaining about here. Are you conflating the entire wake with the 2 or 3 minutes of screentime when the members of the office start wailing absurdly? If so, we part company sharply. The wake itself may not be the stylistic high watermark of the film (though much of it is a rigorously arranged symmetrical composition… and the camera gets drunk along with the men), but it is the chassis upon which is hung a series of extraordinary flashbacks, each progressively more brilliant than the one before, as well as the scene that lays bare the corruption and hypocrisy of the bureaucracy Shimura was pitted against. Without this backdrop, both the sublime profundity of Shimura’s enlightenment, and Kurosawa’s savage critique of the system that needed transcending, are immeasurably cheapened.
You’re right Matt. The part I’m talking about is definitely not 20 minutes long(I may have accidently mentioned that). You can see in my comment above to Aldo where he talks about the funeral scene, I mention the funeral scene is really long with many different things happening. The scenes where they cry excessively at times seemed overdone to me. Iwatched it yet again after reading your comment and it shed a new light on the scene. I dont have any problems with it now.
@Matt Harris– haha– so to be clear I think it is a funnier comment now than a real thing. Even before this viewing it was an exaggeration– but a critique. You’re correct, I didn’t think enough of it as a blemish to note. I prefer to watch and note when I observe exceptional cinema so very few of my pages will I talk about what some director or film “isn’t” doing— i do think the funeral/wake could be cut down a little and compared to the rest of the film may contain a higher percentage of flatter overall shots and scenes– but we’re nitpicking and digging in masterpieces here and I think the film as it stands is utterly brilliant so whatever.
@Drake. Now that you’ve re seen ikiru, what do you think of TSPDT’s ranking? Do you think of Ikiru as a top 120-150 film too?
@Azman– it is just too tough to say right now. I need to wait– I don’t look at it that way either- I’ll re-rank 1952 first, then the 1950’s, etc. I’m sorry- probably not the answer you’re looking for but I don’t see any film from 1952 looking at the list right now that is clearly superior to Ikiru.
[…] Ikiru – Kurosawa […]
What a treat to return to this film, have not seen it since early on when I first got into Japanese films a couple of years ago.
What a performance from Shimura, hard to believe this is the same guy from his role in Seven Samurai just 2 years later. It’s interesting how Japanese acting uses highly exaggerated physical movements different from other acting. Shimura’s performance is quite different from anything else I’ve seen and very special.
I don’t usually get overly emotional watching films but if you don’t feel something watching this film…check yourself for a pulse.
I’ve watched Ikiru for the first time three days ago – and then I rewatched it two days ago. It’s a bit ridiculous how good of a director Kurosawa is, especially when it comes to staging his scenes.
But I’ve come here to comment on something I noticed just on a rewatch. I don’t know whether it’s obvious or nonsense – or maybe none – to say this, but here we go:
I find the theme of ‘individual vs society’ to be a constant thread in Ikiru. Basically, not only how hard it is to live in a society, but to be in one. The most obvious link with this theme is the bureaucracy within the city hall on the film. But also, on these scenes:
– one girl on the car tells Watanabe he’s boring her with his sadness;
– the narrator, us (the audience), the sick guy on the hospital, the doctors – lots of people know about Watanabe’s death before him. You could even say his death is kind of “foreseen” by the sick guy on the hospital;
– Watanabe’s coworkers are always discussing the reasons why he could be missing work;
– Watanebe’s family is always judging him by his actions, whether it’s “dating” a younger woman, not dating (anyone) at all or staying on his son’s room and listening to him without his permission;
– the whole funeral scene, when characters are basically discussing Watanabe’s legacy and if that’s deserved or not;
– the (famous and great) scene where Watanabe sings along the piano man on that restaurant, I noticed something interesting. In that scene, he sings the “Life is Short” melody perfectly, with so much heart and sheer sadness – while he’s doing so, everyone’s looking at him. Then, as soon as he stops singing it, (almost) everyone stops looking at him and goes back to doing something else. This illustrates perfectly my point here, which is:
it seems society is always demanding something from this individual, as if he always needs to do something to prove himself of value to those around him – and to even be liked by them. So, there’s something so pure in how Watanabe is born again (the “happy birthday” scene) and leaves, happily, a ‘legacy’ and his last act in this world with the construction of a park, which will be enjoyed by so many children. And those children will never even get to know him. Crazy to think about that.
And it’s where Ikiru also gets depressingly real, as most of Watanabe’s coworkers, who felt inspired by his actions in the end of his funeral, simply forgets this fact and go back to their regular work, always passing their tasks to the next person/department, as they demand those around them (society) that their lives as individuals get better.
Anyway, that’s what I wanted to say. Hope someone reads it and agrees/disagrees with me. This idea really stick with me.
Great comment, and helpful while thinking back on the film. I just watched Ikiru on New Years Eve for the first time, and it felt like a very appropriate movie. That ending and your comments reminded me of a quote I heard the other day by Thomas Fuller:
“Vows made in storm are forgotten in calm.”
All we can do is our best in this life, and be thankful there are masters such as Kurosawa to cast such a critical eye.
@Drake – I’ve been reading a lot of the individual film pages, and one thing that’s struck me is how you focus almost exclusively on the positive aspects of the film. I really like that and plan on incorporating it into my own reviews. I have a bad habit of my reviews being 1/4 or even 1/2 criticism of the film in question.
@LeBron Smith- Thank you Lebron. I think that is the way to go. I try to talk about what a film or work of art brings to the table- not what it does not. I’ve learned from reading bad reviews. I read one yesterday about how Babylon is unsubtle and that was a negative critique. Babylon isn’t trying to be subtle – so the criticism is ridiculous. You can praise a film for its use of color, or its camera movement- but to criticize a film for not having these aspects seems silly- and certainly something you cannot replicate to every great film.