Ikiru

The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained. The Film: Ikiru (1952) The Plot: Upon inferring the news of his close, impending death within a matter of months due to cancer, long-time city bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe (played by Takashi Shimura) struggles through his final days fending off his illness as well as deep depression. As he reflects upon the trajectory of his life he looks back and realizes the damaged relationship with his son and comes to understand the relative insignificance of his job duties over the past decades of city service. After a few weeks of shuffling through different attempts to find some temporary form of happiness he gets invigorated one day at work when he stumbles upon the request of some lower-end neighborhood tenants seeking city approval to fix up their community playground. With only a few months left to live Watanabe fights both time and seemingly endless layers of bureaucracy to see one positive accomplishment come to fruition before he passes.

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Criterion Files

In 1950 Akira Kurosawa released what many consider to be his first true masterpiece, which started two decades full of multiple masterpieces, in the pioneering and uniquely structured Rashomon. That film told the story of an unsolved murder in feudal Japan causing a series of conflicting stories and falsely witnessed accounts as told by the survivors (and even the murdered himself from beyond the grave) of the incident. Each participant had their own side of the story to tell and each had their own personal motivations for blatantly lying about what really happened.

That film paints a very pessimistic picture on the psychological side of the human condition. We will lie and we will do it, generally, for reasons as superficial as maintaining a perceived public image. We will do this willingly and with conviction to the point that the human word becomes about as reliable as a thumbtack holding up a mirror. We must either hope the mirror is small and unimportant, or get ourselves a lot of thumbtacks to support the one.

Two years following this first masterpiece (already eleven pictures into his career) Kurosawa would create a film that not only portrays us at our worst – in almost the exact same way as Rashomon no less, accompanied by other character flaws – he would also offer us the antithesis and he would do it using some of the same individuals he characterized earlier in the film as weak and/or fake.

Ikiru, while not cut of the same piece of wood as the samurai epics Kurosawa would later become most known for, may be his most dense picture and truly indicative of what it is to be human.

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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
B+
published: 12.15.2014
B
published: 12.12.2014
D+


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