I feel like I made it sound more idyllic than it really is. The film follows Kanji Watanabe, as he is diagnosed with stomach cancer. He has worked for City Hall for 30 years and never missed a single day. His job seems to consist of sitting amongst papers and directing complaining citizens to take their complaints elsewhere. Nothing is accomplished. When he realizes that he only has six months to a year to live, he misses work for the first time. He begins to sense that his life has been nothingness. It's not that he is upset that he will die - he is upset because he has lived so pointlessly. "I just can't die -- I don't know what I've been living for all these years," he says at some point. He has to try to find something to do or live for before it's too late.
I really loved this movie. I loved that it was so slow and quiet, and it dealt with such a simple, realistic issue with so much grace and tenderness. I feel in love with all of the characters. I really could relate to how Watanabe felt during the movie. I think everyone can understand how frustrating it is to watch your life get away from you as you go day-to-day in a monotonous job. For me, it sometimes feels like I never have the time to do what I want to, or work on creative things anymore. Boring work, at a job that you don't love, can be draining, and it's easy to lose sight of the things that drove you before. When I was unemployed, I spent a lot of time reading and writing and learning, doing crafts and thinking about starting new hobbies. "Maybe I'll learn to play piano!" Now I feel like I just come home and try to watch as much TV as possible before my Unisom kicks in. Time got away from Watanabe, like it does for all of us, since I know that all of you have had boring, dopey jobs as well.
Spoiler alert here, so don't read ahead if you don't want to have some minor plot things ruined for you. Watanabe decides that he is going to fix one of the problems that has been going on for some time, a cesspool that many people have been complaining about. He begs and pleads with many people, including the Mayor, and eventually, it is turned into a beautiful park for children. Five months later, he dies of the cancer that affected him. At his funeral, everyone sits around wondering why he became so "crazy" during the last few months- challenging the status quo, going out and spending money and having good times.
Ebert writes about this scene in his essay, saying, "We who have followed Watanabe on his last journey are now brought forcibly back to the land of the living, to cynicism and gossip. Mentally, we urge the survivors to think differently, to arrive at our conclusions. And that is how Kurosawa achieves his final effect: He makes us not witnesses to Watanabe's decision, but evangelists for it. I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently" (The Great Movies, 227). I know that after this movie, I thought a lot about what I can do to be more creative and happy in my life, or what I can do to make a small difference. I don't feel that way often after I watch movies, so this felt truly profound.
The movie is sort of long, but I really hope that you take the time to seek this out and watch it. Akira Kurosawa is so incredibly famous for a reason - his films have inspired countless American films and many important directors. The fact that the film is so inspiring and moving makes it worth the time it takes to watch it. The movie is streaming on Netflix, so it's easy enough to find. If you watch it, let me know what you think - I hope that you will be as inspired and moved by it as I was, and I'd love to hear about it.
Have any of you seen Ikiru? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Ikiru