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Akira Kurosawa: "Ikiru"

Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece about a man trying to do a good deed before his death.
Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece about a man trying to do a good deed before his death.
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Akira Kurosawa is considered to be one of the greatest directors of all time. His film techniques and personality showed through all of his works, and he influenced a great deal of modern filmmakers. Without Kurosawa, "Star Wars" would not have been the same. "The Magnificent Seven" wouldn't have even been made if it wasn't for his film "Seven Samurai." I will review many of his films to show his greatness, and I want to start off with one of his modern stories instead of his samurai epics.

"Ikiru" is a film directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1952. It is about a man named Kanji Watanabe, played magnificently by Takashi Shimura, who finds out he has stomach cancer and only a few months left to live. The first part of the film shows Kanji dealing with this fact, and the second shows how people remember him after he had passed away.
"Ikiru" is one of Kurosawa’s modern day films. The film shows modern houses and the interior spaces of political offices. What the film does use the most though are close-up shots of the actors and actresses in the film. Shots mostly showed the reactions of the characters, and the close-up shots of Kanji allow the audience to see the horror, fear and happiness in his face. These shots gave the film a much more intimate setting.

One of the main themes in the film is the idea of self-discovery and how to continue to live even when people have a limited time limit. Kanji knows that he is going to die, and he at first is very depressed. But he later comes to the realization that he has been living his life for the past twenty years as if he had already been dead. His job as the public relations for the city office just had him signing papers and he never helped anyone. This leads him to actively pursue trying to build a park for people in the town even though the corruption of the office at some points got in his way. In the end he was beloved by many people and he gave the people what they needed, even though the system in the office didn’t change.

The film was made right after World War II which was when Japan was occupied by the allied forces. The country was going through a reform in its government, and "Ikiru" showed how even with the changes there were still many problems with it. In the beginning of the film, a family is shown asking the PR department in the government office about fixing a bacteria-infested area in their neighborhood. The family is told to go to the engineering department, then the sewage department, then the architecture department, and over and over again the family is passed around until they get back to the PR department. The family is about to be passed off again when they say this isn’t right and it isn’t democracy. With this scene, it showed how the new government wasn’t really helping people and they were a corrupt entity. The scene also showed stacks up papers towering on the desks, which meant there were so many problems going on that the government was refusing to look at. The employees and the people were getting overburdened with problems that didn’t have an end in sight.

Later on, Kanji was able to get a park made for these people because he was extremely persistent. His co-workers at the funeral said they would follow in his footsteps, but they fall back into the same place as before and continue the cycle of corruption. The employees didn’t want to change anything and they wanted to keep their job. Kurosawa showed how there could be a future in the new government but it would take a lot more persistence from the people.

Even though the film made a strong social commentary, it was still very touching because of the story of Kanji. Kanji was an old man who just wanted to live, but he couldn’t. So instead, he lived his last days trying to be the best person he could be. The film made him more sympathetic because he walked very slowly, and the camera at many points looked down upon him. While Kanji still looked sad and tired in the second part, the camera positioning had moved. Low angle shots were used to show how he gained more control over his life and his job. Shimura's portrayal helped as well, as his face could go from sullen and full of despair to happy and cheerful with ease. These simple film techniques made "Ikiru" and Kanji a touching story and showed Kurosawa's attention to detail.