I just saw one of the most incredible films I have ever seen: IKIRU. I cannot believe that it has taken 36 years for my path to collide with this genius film, but it has. What a gift of a film this is.
Ikiru is a black and white feature made in 1952 by Japan's acclaimed director, Akiro Kurosawa. It stars Takashi Shimura (pictured), and is about a man, Kanji Watanabe, who has held the same monotonous job at City Hall for the past 30 years. He knows his bureaucratic work is meaningless and, upon learning that he has stomach cancer, sets out to start living, rather than merely existing. (There are incredible visuals of Watanabe sitting at his desk, surrounded by mountains of paperwork. We stare at him while he thoughtlessly stamps paper after paper, without a hint of expression on his face.) He realizes that his relationship with his son is non-existent, and sets out to find some relationship to life besides useless work.
Without spoiling the film (which is almost three hours), I will report to you my favorite part: After learning he has incurable cancer, Watanabe goes to a bar and buys himself a drink for the very first time in his life. He decides to spend some of his life savings on himself. He meets a young writer who demands he take charge of his life--
MAN AT THE BAR SAYS TO WATANABE--
"I realize what they say about the
nobility of misfortune is true,
because misfortune teaches us the truth.
Your cancer has opened your eyes to your own life.
We humans are so careless.
We only realize how beautiful life is
when we chance upon death.
But few of us are actually able to face death.
The worst ones know nothing of life
'til they die.
rebelling against life at your age.
Your rebellious spirit moves me!
You were a slave to your own life.
Now you will become its master!
I'm telling you--
It's your human duty to enjoy life.
You desecrate God's great gift.
We've got to be greedy about living.
We learned that greed is a vice--
but that's old.
Greed is a virtue.
Especially this greediness for life!"
That speech pricked up my ears. It was during that speech that my interest in this movie was truly sparked (the beginning is slow, but there's lots of background and character development needed in the early part of the film in order for the rest of the film to be poignant).
I don't want to tell the middle or the end of the story. What could I possibly write, anyway? The storyline is so connected to the essence of life itself that words wouldn't do it justice.
I read a review online that said the message of Ikiru is simple: TO LIVE IS TO LOVE. THE REST IS CANCER.
Watanabe-san gives his life meaning by doing the unthinkable...