Ikiru

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Ikiru
Ikiru poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Sōjirō Motoki
Screenplay by
Starring
Music by Fumio Hayasaka
Cinematography Asakazu Nakai
Edited by Kōichi Iwashita
Distributed by Toho
Release date
  • October 9, 1952 (1952-10-09)
Running time
143 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Ikiru (生きる?, "To Live") is a 1952 Japanese drama film directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa and starring Takashi Shimura. The film examines the struggles of a terminally ill Tokyo bureaucrat and his final quest for meaning. The screenplay was partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy's 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

The major themes of the film include learning how to live, the inefficiency of bureaucracy, and decaying family life in Japan, which have been the subject of analysis by academics and critics. The film has received widespread critical acclaim, and in Japan won awards for Best Film at the Kinema Junpo and Mainichi Film Awards. It was remade as a television film in 2007.

Plot[edit]

Kanji Watanabe is a middle-aged man who has worked in the same monotonous bureaucratic position for thirty years. His wife is dead and his son and daughter-in-law, who live with him, seem to care mainly about Watanabe's pension and their future inheritance. At work, he sees constant inaction, including a group of parents who are referred to one department after another when they want a cesspool cleared out and replaced by a playground. After learning he has stomach cancer and less than a year to live, Watanabe attempts to come to terms with his impending death. He plans to tell his son about the cancer, but decides against it when his son does not pay attention to him. He then tries to find escape in the pleasures of Tokyo's nightlife, guided by an eccentric novelist whom he just met. In a nightclub, Watanabe requests a song from the piano player, and sings "Gondola no Uta" with great sadness. His singing greatly affects those watching him. After one night submerged in the nightlife, he realizes this is not the solution.

The following day, Watanabe encounters a young female subordinate, Toyo, who needs his signature on her resignation. He is attracted to her joyous love of life and enthusiasm and tries to spend as much time as possible with her. She eventually becomes suspicious of his intentions and grows weary of him. After convincing her to join him for the last time, he opens up and asks for the secret to her love of life. She says that she does not know, but that she found happiness in her new job making toys, which makes her feel like she is playing with all the children of Japan and that he should find a purpose in his own life. Inspired by her, Watanabe realizes that it is not too late for him and that he still can do something. Like Toyo, he wants to make something, but is unsure what he can make in the city bureaucracy until he remembers the lobbying for a playground. He surprises everyone by returning to work after a long absence, and begins pushing for a playground despite concerns he is intruding on the jurisdiction of other departments.

Watanabe dies, and at his wake, his former co-workers gather, after the opening of the playground, and try to figure out what caused such a dramatic change in his behavior. His transformation from listless bureaucrat to passionate advocate puzzles them. As the co-workers drink, they slowly realize that Watanabe must have known he was dying, even when his son denies this, as he was unaware of his father's condition. They also hear from a witness that in the last few moments in Watanabe's life, he sat on the swing at the park he built. As the snow fell, he sang "Gondola no Uta". The bureaucrats vow to live their lives with the same dedication and passion as he did. But back at work, they lack the courage of their newfound conviction.

Cast[edit]

Takashi Shimura and Haruo Tanaka have starring roles.

Themes[edit]

Living[edit]

Death is a major theme in the film, which leads to the protagonist Watanabe's quest to find the meaning of life.[1] Initially, Watanabe looks to nightclubs and women to live life to the fullest, but winds up singing the 1915 song "Gondola no Uta" as an expression of loss.[2] Professor Alexander Sesonske writes that in the nightclub scene, Watanabe realizes "pleasure is not life," and that a goal gives him new happiness, with the song "Happy Birthday to You" symbolizing his rebirth.[1] Because Toyo is young, she has the best insight as to how to live, and is presented as the "unlikely savior" in Watanabe's "redemption."[2]

Author Donald Richie wrote that the title of the film, meaning simply "to live," could signify that "existence is enough." However, Watanabe finds existence is painful, and takes this as inspiration, wanting to ensure his life has not been futile. The justification of his life, found in his park, is how Watanabe discovered how "to live."[3] In the end, Watanabe now sings "Gondola no Uta" with great contentment.[2]

Bureaucracy[edit]

Ikiru is also an "indictment of Japanese bureaucracy."[1] In Japan after World War II, it was expected that the sararīman (salary man) would work predictably in accordance with an organization's rules.[4] The scene where the mothers first visit the city office requesting a playground shows "unconcern" in the bureaucrats, who send the visitors on a "farcical runaround," before asking them for a written request, with paperwork in the film symbolizing "meaningless activity."[5] Despite this, Watanabe uses the bureaucracy to forge his legacy, and is apparently not disturbed when the bureaucracy quickly forgets he drove the project to build the playground.[6]

Japanese health care is also depicted as overly bureaucratic in the film, as Watanabe visits a clinic in a "poignant" scene.[7] The doctor is portrayed as paternalistic, and Watanabe does not stand up to his authority.[8]

Family life[edit]

Author Timothy Iles writes that, as with Yasujirō Ozu's 1953 film Tokyo Story, Ikiru may hold a negative view about the state of family life in modern Japan. Watanabe has lived with his son for years, but they have fallen out of any true relationship. His son, Mitsuo, sees Watanabe as a bother, and sees him as standing in the way of money in Watanabe's will.[9] The children fall short of their responsibility to respect their parents.[10]

Urbanization may be a reason for negative changes in Japanese society, although a reason for Watanabe and Mitsuo's drift is also Watanabe's preoccupation with work.[10] Another reason is Watanabe not being with Mitsuo during a medical treatment when the boy was 10, which fits a pattern in Kurosawa's films of sons being overly harsh to their fathers.[11]

Production[edit]

Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich was an inspiration for the screenplay, co-written by Hideo Oguni.

The film marked the first collaboration between director Akira Kurosawa and screenwriter Hideo Oguni. According to Oguni, the genesis of the film was Kurosawa's desire to make a film about a man who knows he is going to die, and wants a reason to live for a short time.[12] Oguni was an experienced writer and was offered ¥500,000, while co-writer Shinobu Hashimoto was offered ¥150,000. Initially, Kurosawa told Hashimoto that a man who was set to die in 75 days had to be the theme, and that the character's career was less important, with the director saying criminal, homeless man or government minister would be acceptable.[13]

The screenwriters consulted Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and Oguni envisioned placing Watanabe's death halfway through the film.[12] Kurosawa dictated the scene where Watanabe is on the swing, and mentioned the beginning lyrics of "Gondola no Uta." Since none of the men were familiar with the song, they consulted their eldest receptionist on the rest of the lyrics and the song title.[13]

Kurosawa renamed the draft The Life of Kanji Watanabe to Ikiru, which Hashimoto found pretentious, but Oguni supported. The screenplay was completed on 5 February 1952.[13]

Release[edit]

In Japan, Toho released the film on 9 October 1952.[14] The film was also screened in the 1954 Berlin International Film Festival.[15]

In the United States, the film was shown for a short time in California in 1956, under the title Doomed.[12] It opened as Ikiru in New York City on 29 January 1960.[16] The film poster featured the stripper seen briefly in the film, rather than Watanabe.[12]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe in the iconic scene.

The film won critical approval upon its release.[17] Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, called it "a strangely fascinating and affecting film, up to a point—that being the point where it consigns its aged hero to the great beyond," which he deemed "anti-climactic." Crowther praised Shimura, saying he "measures up through his performance in this picture with the top film actors anywhere," and complimented Miki Odagiri, Nobuo Kaneko and Yunosuke Ito.[16] Variety staff called the film "a tour-de-force," by "keeping a dramatic thread throughout and avoiding the mawkish."[18]

Roger Ebert added it to his list of Great Movies in 1996, saying, "Over the years I have seen Ikiru every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us."[19] In his Great Movies review of Seven Samurai, Ebert called it Kurosawa's greatest film.[20] In 2008, Wally Hammond of Time Out praised Ikiru as "one of the triumphs of humanist cinema."[21] That year, The New Yorker's Michael Sragow described it as a "masterwork," noting Kurosawa was usually associated more with his action films.[22] The scene featuring Watanabe on the swing in the playground he built has been described as "iconic."[23][24][25]

Empire magazine ranked Ikiru ranks 459th on its 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time,[26] and 44th in "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[27] Conversely, in 2016 The Daily Telegraph named it one of the 10 most overrated films.[28] The film has a 100% positive rating from critics at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 32 reviews.[29]

Accolades[edit]

The film competed for the Golden Bear at the 4th Berlin International Film Festival in 1954.[15]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actor Takashi Shimura Nominated [30]
Berlin International Film Festival Special Prize of the Senate of Berlin Akira Kurosawa Won [14]
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Film Akira Kurosawa Won [14]
Mainichi Film Awards Best Film Akira Kurosawa Won [14]
Best Screenplay Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni Won
Best Sound Recording Fumio Yanoguchi Won
Ministry of Education Minister of Education Award Ikiru Won [14]

Legacy[edit]

Ikiru was remade as a Japanese television film that debuted on TV Asahi on 9 September 2007, the day after a remake of Kurosawa's High and Low. The Ikiru remake stars kabuki actor Matsumoto Kōshirō IX.[31]

In 2003, DreamWorks attempted to make a U.S. remake, which would star Tom Hanks in the lead role, and talked to Richard Price about adapting the screenplay.[32] Jim Sheridan agreed to direct the film in 2004,[33] though it has not been released.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Sesonske, Alexander (19 November 1990). "Ikiru". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Dylan Thomas, "Looking for Meaning in All the Wrong Places: Ikiru (To Live)," Thinking Through Film: Doing Philosophy, Watching Movies, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
  3. ^ Richie, Donald (5 January 2004). "Ikiru". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  4. ^ Michael C. Brannigan, "Ikiru and Net-Casting in Intercultural Bioethics," Bioethics at the Movies, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, p. 347.
  5. ^ Brannigan, "Ikiru and Net-Casting in Intercultural Bioethics," pp. 354-355.
  6. ^ Lucken, Imitation and Creativity in Japanese Arts: From Kishida Ryusei to Miyazaki Hayao, Columbia University Press, 2016, p. 113.
  7. ^ Brannigan, "Ikiru and Net-Casting in Intercultural Bioethics," p. 345.
  8. ^ Brannigan, "Ikiru and Net-Casting in Intercultural Bioethics," p. 355.
  9. ^ Timothy Iles, The Crisis of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Film: Personal, Cultural, National, Leiden: Brill, 2008, p. 83.
  10. ^ a b Iles, The Crisis of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Film, p. 84.
  11. ^ Justin Vicari, Japanese Film and the Floating Mind: Cinematic Contemplations of Being, McFarland & Company Publishers, 2016, p. 72.
  12. ^ a b c d McGee, Scott. "Ikiru". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c Shinobu Hashimoto, Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I, Vertical, Inc., 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d e Stuart Galbraith IV, The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography, The Scarecrow Press, 2008, p. 88.
  15. ^ a b "PROGRAMME 1954". Berlin International Film Festival. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  16. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (30 January 1960). "Screen: Drama Imported From Japan:'Ikiru' Has Premiere at the Little Carnegie Shimura Stars as Petty Government Aide". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  17. ^ Lucken, Imitation and Creativity in Japanese Arts, p. 108.
  18. ^ Variety Staff (31 December 1951). "Review: 'Ikiru'". Variety. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 29, 1996). "Ikiru :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 19, 2001). "The Seven Samurai :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  21. ^ Hammond, Wally (15 July 2008). "Ikiru". Time Out. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  22. ^ Sragow, Michael (4 August 2008). "Movies". The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  23. ^ Sooke, Alistair (26 November 2005). "Film-makers on film: Scott Derrickson". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  24. ^ Jardine, Dan (23 March 2010). "Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  25. ^ Mayward, Joel (10 February 2016). "The Year in Liturgical Cinema: Ash Wednesday and Lent". Christianity Today. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  26. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. 3 October 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  27. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 44. Ikiru". Empire. 11 June 2010. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  28. ^ Robey, Tim (6 August 2016). "10 most overrated films of all time". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  29. ^ "Ikiru". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  30. ^ "Film in 1960". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  31. ^ "Environmental celebrity special, celebrity comeback special, Kurosawa classic adaptation". The Japan Times. 2 September 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  32. ^ Fleming, Michael (24 March 2003). "Price right for 'Ikiru'". Variety. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  33. ^ Fleming, Michael; LaPorte, Nicole (9 September 2004). "Irish eyes smile on DreamWorks' 'Ikiru' remake". Variety. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 

External links[edit]