“Ikiru” – Chris Luedtke

A strong lesson about life can be taken from the viewing of legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru. Here we have Kanji Watanabe (played by Takashi Shimura) who has completely ignored life for the last twenty years. After Kanji finds out he has terminal stomach cancer, only then does he realize that he’s never fully grasped life, accrued friendships, or even made a connection with his son Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko). Realizing this, Kanji decides he must do something valuable with his life before it expires.


Those looking for a moral story shouldn’t look any further. Ikiru has some dark and depressing aspects to it, but the desire to hold on just remains throughout. In fact, feeling is the main concentration here. The entire film is like one big emotional rollercoaster. But like many rollercoasters, there are the twists and turns that make you go “Yay!”, and then there are the jerks and jolts that make your neck crack in places you never knew it could crack. Some scenes try to turn the mood on a dime, and the few times it does happen, it ends up being awkward and discomforting. One scene had Kanji making a very personal connection with his former co-worker Toyo (Miki Odagiri). As they go through the nicknames she devised for all her co-workers out of boredom, there is a very light-hearted connection that makes a sudden pitfall out of nowhere when she spontaneously blurts out that she made one for Kanji as well. Shifts like this one make the experience uncomfortably awkward even though they may be necessary.


**SPOILER WARNING! Plot spoilers await you in the following paragraph!**


The story suffers from the same issues. Ikiru has a great idea going for it that could have been a much smoother ride. Unfortunately, there are some sudden plot turns that just made me sit back and go, “Oh, what the hell?!” While the entire movie is about the final days of Kanji, he’s only in half the movie before his death is just spontaneously announced. The other half of the movie makes him out to be a misunderstood man due to his quiet character. I thought this was unnecessary because the minute I entered his wake, I knew exactly where the movie was headed. It seems like writers Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto set out to make sure that Kanji’s life was misunderstood, and while the end holds a lot of raw emotion and reveals how Kanji spent is final five months, the truth of the matter is that this was not the way it had to be. It’s all too forced, but then again, I also see this forcefulness as being much like its protagonist — forcing itself to see things through the way it wants to
until the end.


Ikiru certainly isn’t a bad movie but what it does suffer from leaves a lasting impression. I find myself reflecting more on the awkward moments than on the sweet, life-affirming ones. Still, the portrayal of the desire to live will also be burned into your soul because the desire to live here is strong, even when it knows it must meet an inevitable and unfortunate end.


Rating: ★★★☆


-Chris Luedtke

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