The mysterious obsession with death has hit many great filmmakers, death was a common and central theme in most of legendary Iranian filmmaker Abbas kiarostami’s films at one point or other every filmmaker has tried to capture this enigmatic theme but no film themed around death is more real and powerful than Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru.
Watanabe is an old Bureaucrat whose life turns upside down after he finds out he has stomach cancer and he is about to die, he examines his life and comes to conclusion that he has led a worthless life, the scene where he looks at the honour awarded to him in return of his 25 years of service with remorse provokes pure emotion of worthlessness. Watanabe tries his hand at everything he gambles, boozes, tries to hook up with a woman but nothing seems to satisfy him, he looses his reputation that he build over the years, in a span of two weeks a respected ideal persona of Watanabe in people’s mind change to crazy alcoholic womanizer even his son tries to take advantage of the situation and demands to leave his assests before he spends it all on women and alcohol, Watanabe then realizes the precarious nature of his persona which fell in no time.
The word Ikiru has been translated as ‘To Live’ which works as a light on the other side of the tunnel the title gives hope and promises to end the long despair in the protagonist’s life. As a Bureaucrat he helps people living in slums to build a playground by cleaning the cesspool which is plaguing the people, government shelves this project but committed Watanabe makes the system budge, for him this project is more than a act of repentance, it’s his way of expressing and feeling his existence.
But the third act of the movie is groundbreaking, only a master filmmaker can pull of something of that level. Various people from Watanabe’s life attend his funeral and pour in their opinion of .Watanabe’s character some call him womanizer, some call him alcoholic, some call him a dedicated Bureaucrat but Watanabe is not given credit for his work instead the Mayor takes the opportunity and takes all the credit for Watanabe’s work which sparks debate among the colleagues, the scene is a cinematic triumph one of the best scenes in movie history the emotions are both evil and good but are pure and more real than conventional cinema.
Ikiru is legendary film critic Roger Ebert’s favorite Kurosawa film and no wonder why it was such an important film to him he himself died of a terminal disease and he said “The older I get, less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and more he seems like one of us.” Explains how much of a impact Ikiru had on him.
What would you do if you knew you had only few months to live? A difficult question to answer, it was difficult for Watanabe too, an unexamined life is not worth living he realized it quite late.