Kurosawa’s Melancholy Masterpiece “Ikiru”

Ikiru 1

We’re proud to open our Kurosawa Sans Samurai series with what might be the greatest of all of the auteur’s non-samurai films: Ikiru, starring the incomparable (and criminally underrated) Takeshi Shimura.

Review by Trylon volunteer David Berglund.

Filled with heartbreak and insight, Akira Kurosawa’s gently personal Ikiru marks a high point in an impressive and prolific filmmaking career otherwise marked by more dynamic, violent pieces.  For many, the story of Kanji Watanabe (Shimura), a dying man searching for meaning from a heretofore monotonous life as a paper-pusher, will be too meandering.  Yet, to preserve authenticity and thematic resolve, it should be stated that this journey must initially lack a center and aim.  After all, Watanabe, a widower with only a motley group of adult moochers for children and a disappointing existence, is at a loss – he certainly sees no need to return to a pointless job, but if he doesn’t go to work, then what?  Kurosawa wisely invites us to walk alongside Watanabe as he fails to find meaning from vice, for this departure makes his subsequent discovery – the joy in helping others – more gratifying.

And yet, Kurosawa knows that life is never this simple, for even if one man finds purpose and meaning in life, this does not mean everyone will take notice, applaud, or follow in his footsteps.  In a stunningly honest third act, Kurosawa details the conversations that take place at Watanabe’s funeral – conversations tainted with pride, mockery, and empty resolutions.  Contrasting such conversations to the genuine tears of the formerly neglected people he has helped, Kurosawa’s point is clear – a virtuous life will not always change the world, but it can certainly have profound influence for some.

The film serves as a call to overcome the distractions and minutiae of life and delight in the purpose of making the world a more compassionate and communal place, one small effort at a time. Not because such efforts will return material or social benefits, but because they free us from the burden of these false idols.  Lacking the sentimentality of most films that carry this message, Ikiru stands tall; a complex examination of generosity that carefully and earnestly urges us to do more.

David Berglund is a proud Longfellow resident and ardent cinema junkie who previously wrote on film with his wife, Chelsea Berglund, on their Movie Matrimony blog.

Ikiru screens Friday and Saturday at 7:00 & 9:45 and Sunday at 5:00 & 8:00. Purchase tickets here.

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