Under the sun

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ikiru - To Live

When i write about a movie i've watched, i don't use the term "review" to refer to that. 'Review' sounds highbrow and condescending. 'Comments' sounds better and more apt. A lot has already been said about all the masterpieces and the great movies made that i would just be re-stating the obvious if i were to comment on many of those. It feels futile and redundant to write about all of those, however jobless i may be. However, i watched Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru last week and i felt its a very "personal" movie, like Rashomon and unlike The Seven Samurai or Yojimbo. Also, i'm in a mental and physical state of utter joblessness, and hence this paean from a movie lover. Don't know when i will attain this "Watanabesque" [read below] state of being again. [Knowing me, pretty soon!] Till then, eat this....
The movie starts with a shot of an X-ray of the protagonist with the narrator explaining "He has gastric cancer, but doesn't yet know it. He just drifts through life. In fact, he's barely alive."
Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), is a bureaucrat who works for 30 years at Tokyo City Hall as a section chief. He does nothing, literally. All he does is press a rubber stamp on each of the papers piled up on his desk. He learns that he has stomach cancer and he has only a few months left. The scene where he is waiting to see the doctor in the hospital is an amazing sequence of dynamic frame composition and the trademark Kurosawa "deep-focus" camera, where all the characters remian in focus, irrespective of their distance from the camera. Death's messenger comes in the form of another waiting patient through whom Watanabe learns that he has stomach cancer and his doctor only confirms it. The mind-numbing monotony and pointlessness of his life comes crashing down and it is at the threshold of death does he realize that he has not been living for all these years.
He goes home in the hope of finding some solace but realizes that there is no love lost between him and his son, not to mention his son's wife. He jumps into his bed and goes under the covers, crying uncontrollable, surrendering totally to fate, even as the camera focuses on a citation congratulating him for his long-standing service! No sugar-coating, romanticizing portrayal of his helplessness. It can't get more real than this.
He doesn't go to work for a few days. He befriends a man at a bar and confides to him that he has never lived life all these days and now that he knows death is near, he wants to stop existing and start living, but doesn't know how to! He drinks for the first time in his life, they go on a night out, partying hard.
He repeats the night out with a woman working under him, who tracks him down [he stops going to work] so that he can approve her resignation. The woman helps him understand that life has a purpose, after all. Kurosawa places
a beautiful metaphor in this scene, where a group of school girls are singing "Happy Birthday". He goes to his office the next day, and for the first time in his career, he works. He takes up the matter of abuilding a park for the people of a locality.
The rest is the real essence of the movie, structurally unique and also intriguing at a personal level for the watcher. I was reminded of the thought-provoking power of Rashomon when i saw this portion of the film - brilliant depiction of characters and human nature.
It is Watanabe's funeral and his family and colleagues are gathered, having Sake. Till now, the only impression Watanabe creates in those around him is only negative, or so it would seem to the audience. His family thinks that he blew up all his money on his lady colleague out of his lechery and his co-workers don't want to credit him with the successful completion of the local park. How one man influences the thinking of the others and acts as a catalyst in showing Watanabe in the right perspective is shown as a series of short flashbacks. Kurosawa succeeds in making every viewer of the movie and that particular character as one and the same. You talk through that character.
The famous series of still-shots of Watanabe's framed photograph [employed in the opening sequence in The Seven Samurai showing still-shots of the villagers huddled together gloomily] is as unusual as it is powerful.
A must watch-again film.


  • Beautifully written...
    I watched "High and Low" a few years back. Though the film dragged, watching it turned out to be a good experience...

    By Blogger Viji, at Thu Jan 12, 09:06:00 AM  

  • Viji,
    You a Kurosawa fan too? :)

    By Blogger Bala (Karthik), at Fri Jan 13, 01:32:00 AM  

  • As a matter of fact, that's the only Kurosawa movie I've ever seen... *Sheepish grin*
    I would love to watch more, but I don't get thiruttu VCDs of his movies here! ;)
    Japanese movies are awesome. I saw The Ring, Ju-on (The Grudge) and Dark water with sub-titles on HBO. Loved "Dark Water" very much.

    Sorry for the prattle in your blog!
    oru flow'la vandhuduchu...

    By Blogger Viji, at Mon Jan 16, 11:36:00 AM  

  • Viji,
    Saw the English version of The Ringu...

    If ur in Bangalore, as soon as you see finish reading this comment, press CTRL+ALT+DEL and go to Cinema Paradiso, JNC Road, Koramangala, get yourself registered and rent Rashomon DVD. If you don't love it i will reimburse your membership fee and DVD rent!

    By Blogger Bala (Karthik), at Mon Jan 16, 12:40:00 PM  

  • Bala(Karthik),
    Thanks for the suggestion. I'll join asap. jodhila seekrama aiykyam aaren ;)
    Do see "Dark Water" (Jap version). If you don't get touched, you're not human... :)

    By Blogger Viji, at Mon Jan 16, 02:55:00 PM  

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