Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ikiru (Movie Review)

Forget what I said about those photos in a recent post. Because if there's anything that sucks around here, it's me.

Case and point: I just don't love Akira Kurosawa's films as much as everyone else. I watched Seven Samurai a few months ago, and when a friend found out I didn't give it a glowing review, she recommended Ikiru (1952) as a "better" sample of Kurosawa's abilities.

And I did appreciate it more than I did Samurai. That's true. But I also found it to be needlessly long, with certain scenes dragging on well beyond a reasonable conclusion. And the main character, Kanji Watanabe, is so timid, so soft-spoken and repetitive that — though I recognize his personality was integral to the plot — I often found him to be as annoying as he was sympathetic.

I realize I'm talking about one of the most highly regarded films of all time. And best as I can tell, much of the fondness for this film is sentimental: the title, "Ikiru," is Japanese for "to live" and the message implicit to this film is simply that: to live.

And so at the movie's core is a beautiful story that's sadly familiar to most. The protagonist discovers at the beginning of the film that he has stomach cancer: a veritable death sentence for a man who spent 30 years of his life caring for his son and slaving away at work, only to realize:
  1. The love a parent feels for a child is not the same as the love a child feels for a parent (in other words: his son is too busy living his own life to demonstrate true concern for his father); and
  2. He's done nothing but stamp papers and pass that veritable buck at work (the epitome of bureaucratic red tape).
The few remaining months of his life are spent very much so like the previous 30: his timidity persists even as he searches for a means to make the most of his days. He keeps his eyes down when speaking to others, can scarcely be heard when talking, and is fond of expressions such as "what I am trying to say" and "in other words." He's a man who's uncomfortable interacting with others, a point that I agree needed to be made with Watanbe's mannerisms. I just wish it hadn't been so overdone.

But our protagonist does make one discernible change in his life: he's driven to somehow make a single positive change in the world before he dies.

He does so with a note of tremendous sadness. Loss implied not by his impending death, but rather by the number of years wasted previously. You feel sick watching Watanabe, knowing full well that in the 55 years that have passed since this film was made, the mass of men still lead those proverbial lives of desperation.

And somewhere along the lines, there's a poignant reminder that we're not all given the chance to have this sudden "memento mori" epiphany that instills in us a new lust for life. Most of us simply just die, little by little, day after day.

And for that, I appreciated the film. Even if it is too long, and even if the point is a bit over-stated. It is otherwise scattered with beautiful phraseology and replete with amazing cinematography: some so much so that I couldn't help but wish I could acquire a couple stills for my wall.

So if you tell me Kurosawa is one of the best filmmakers of all time because of the art inherent in his camera direction, or even the core message he intends to convey... I just might give you that.

But if it's for his editing or even his "subtlety." Well. We'll just have to agree to disagree.



ds said...

well, nobody else is talking, so I'll say that I watched the '7' several years back in my depressing tiny flat on washington street. I was in Dr. Archer's film class and kept on reading about it. then I checked it out from iuk. it was good. it was slow and powerful and beautiful. not sure that I have it in me to see it again. as the years go by, you become less and less of what you think you were.


radialrelish said...

Try 'Ran'. It's also slow, but absolutley beautiful. And also from Shakespeare.