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Ikiru (1952)


Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 143 minutes


Takashi Shimura (Watanabe) is the head of the Tokyo’s Planning Committee – a highly bureaucratic, inhuman and ineffectual part of City Hall. After thirty years of unblemished service he has become bored, beaten down and merely a cog in the machine but when he finds out he has stomach cancer, and months to live, he slowly begins to realise that, with the clock ticking down, he has to start really living. This is when Shimura gets hammered, meets a lovely young psychotic girl and tries to defy the odds and replace a cesspool with a park.

So, it’s just a guy who got drunk and then decided to build a park? My brother was often drunk and worked for a construction company who built a play park yet he didn’t get a film about his life. However, there is a little more to the story than sake and a recreational facility. Ikiru is a film about life and death and making the most of the time you have left. It’s also a comment on bureaucracy and hard road of change and these interweaving stands are done with typical intelligence of Kurosawa and occasional humour. The musical elements to the film are some of the most moving and the performance of Watanabe as a melancholic man with a renewed spirit is truly excellent.

It is quite a tough watch, especially after the death of the protagonist, when we are basically watching a feature length argument between a room full of drunken Japanese businessmen. The final forty-five minutes tells the audience in the most melodramatic way possible what could have been said in ten. Ikiru is very much a film of its time and of its setting which obviously isn’t a bad thing but it just makes it harder to take seriously.

It's Got: An excellent performance by Watanabe, an iconic scene of a dying man on a swing, some interesting themes

It Needs: To get to the point a little quicker and less melodramatically

DVD Extras Two-disc set, scholarly feature length audio commentary by a Kurosawa expert, documentary featuring interviews with Kurosawa, documentary on Ikiru, 8 page booked containing an essay by Donald Richie ? really thorough special edition DVD


Iconic Japanese cinema nearly at it best but Ikiru just falls short of greatness because of a rambling, over-melodramatic climax. Well-worth a watch though for Watanabe’s performance, iconic scenes and interesting themes.