I’ve seen some of Akira Kurosawa films (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro), and while I can appreciate them, I was never a huge fan of them. And hearing of Ikiru, the story of a man diagnosed with stomach cancer, I wasn’t exactly jumping out the door to see it. In honor of the great director though, I sat through the Japanese classic. Actually, I was quite pleased with what I saw.
Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a man stuck in a rut. He’s been working non stop at the city’s office doing his best to spend his time not really doing much of anything. His relationship with his son is weak at best, and his life doesn’t really amount to much at all. All of the comes screeching to a halt when he finds out he has stomach cancer. The first half of the film deals with how he reacts, trying maybe to spend money to find his worth in life. Of course his inevitable demise comes quick with a “Six Months Later” title and his co-workers in the middle of his wake. They soon begin to argue whether he knew he had cancer or not. His sudden determination to get a park built over a sewage leak leads most to think he had some idea.
I’ve found out some people call it the It’s A Wonderful Life of Japan, and I see where that comes from. To me, it is a much more sobering look at life. The ending is realistic, and hits home in many ways. Shimura is amazing and I instantly feel his desire to find his purpose before it’s too late. It’s a beautiful look at what we are doing in life, and a rare film that makes you look inward afterwards. Truly, I underestimated Kurosawa. A definite must watch.