Ikiru (To Live), Blu-ray (1952/2015)

Ikiru (To Live), Blu-ray (1952/2015)

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Actors: Takashi Shimura
Studio: Toho/Janus Films/The Criterion Collection 221 [11/24/15]
Video: 1/35:1 for 4:3 B&W 1080p HD
Audio: Japanese PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Stephen Prince audio commenary from 2003, “A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Movies” (2000), Documentary produced by Kurosawa Productions & incl. many interviews (90 min.), Trailer, Printed booklet with essay by critic and travel writer Pico Iyer & a reprint from Donald Richie’s book The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1965)
Length: 143 min.
Rating: ****1/2

Watanabe has worked for over 30 years in the same job, as a bureaucrat in a city hall office, spending his entire working life only putting his stamp on various documents. He has some stomach pain and goes to the doctor, who doesn’t want to tell Watanabe he has terminal cancer and doesn’t. But Watanabe knows and is greatly affected by it.

He is taken on a night on the town by a younger novelist he meets, but then meets with a young girl who has just resigned from his office and who has taken a more meaningful job. He is entranced with her spirit and energy, but eventually they part and he decides he can make a difference in life thru his job – by pushing all the buttons to bring to life a city park which people in general could enjoy, and which his office had poo-pooed.

After five years he dies of the cancer and the last third or so of the film is his wake, at which those in charge make up their reasons for not having given Watanabe credit for being behind the park. Then they leave and their underlings have a more positive conversation about how Watanabe became assertive on his job and they resolve to be more like him from then on.

Shimura does a great job as the city hall worker, and so does the girl from the bureacrat’s office, but the subject may be a strong downer for many viewers.  (Hollywood would have had a cure for his cancer at the very end.) A few of the scenes change in exposure during the shots, and many are quite dark; this is definitely not a big colorful samuri production, like some of Kurosawa’s other features.

—John Sunier

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