Ikiru (Ikiru)

27/04/2023 19:30.
Cert PG

Known widely as a Samurai action-film director, Akira Kurosawa (Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Sanjuro (1962), etc.) here presents a classic humanist tale, as he celebrates the human spirit through the eyes of an elderly civil servant named Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura). Diagnosed with terminal cancer and with only a few months left to live, he re-evaluates his life and finds it dull and lacking in spirit – thus he vows to give it some meaning before he dies.

The film was introduced by Alex Jacoby, an expert on Japanese cinema and lecturer in Japanese studies at Oxford Brookes University

Dir: Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 143 mins, 1952, subtitled.

Programme Notes

Never absent in his 25 years as a government bureaucrat, he determinedly turns his empty life around by cutting through the red tape surrounding a project to turn a city dump in a slum district into a well-needed children’s playground. The eventual completion and success of the project makes him serenely happy, as he has lived long enough to see it come to his much-desired fruition. The final scene of the film has Kanji gently swinging alone at night in the playground, while snow is falling, and singing his little tune “Life is short. Ikiru is shorter.”

With Ikiru, this is one of the few occasions that Kurosawa has turned his attention to life in modern Japan and he uses the opportunity to examine how the middle classes view life and death. He also observes how rigid Japanese society was and how it resisted change. Through his main character, Kurosawa reflects on the importance of finding meaning in life before it’s too late. A timeless and simple story, it remains inspiring in its elegiac quality and the way it profoundly reaches the soul of the main character in a genuine way.

Kurosawa gained five contemporary awards for Ikiru, viz. Best Film at the 1953 Mainichi Film Concours, Best Screenplay (with Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni) at the same festival, Best Film at both the 1952 and 1953 Kinema Junpo Awards and the Special Berlin Senate Prize at the 1954 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2022, the film won the Online Film & Television Association Award for that year’s Hall of Fame Motion Picture.

Acknowledgments: dennisschwartzreviews.com

In his September 1996 review of the film, the late Roger Ebert wrote “I first saw Ikiru in 1960/61 [and] over the years, have seen [it] every five years or so. Each time, it has moved me and made me think […] the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man and the more he seems like every one of us”


Clearly an absolute classic!

Excellent – Alex Jacoby’s introduction was great, also the Q&A. Thanks.

I enjoyed the drunken wake!

The film feels a bit (over)long now, especially the funeral dinner scenes. Nevertheless, moving and impressive.


A:10, B:1, C:1, D:0, E:0 to give 94% from 34% of those present.