The Film (5/5)
Kanji Watanabe(Takashi Shimura) is a bureaucratic civil servant nearing the retirement age. He's worked in the same dull position for almost 30 years, and has worked hard. Until the stomach pain that plagues him at the film's beginning causes him to take off for the doctor. It is at this doctors appointment that he finds out in quite uncertain terms that he has stomach cancer, and less than a year to live.
After receiving the news of his impending death, he attempts to live out the life he missed out on. He does this by spending trying to experience true night life, and by befriending a co-worker who appears to have a passion for life, and for making toys. What he really wants from her is her secret to happiness in this life, and she informs him that is something that he has to find for himself. The toys she makes connects to her to children whom she can imagine playing with them. This is his turning point, and he begins to try and work toward creating something tangible from his existence, not to atone for past mistakes, but to make something happen with the little time he has left.
Ikiru came between Kurosawa's earlier masterpiece Rashomon and the film that would cement his reputation internationally The Seven Samurai. For many years Ikiru would get lost in the shuffle between these 2 giants of cinema, and yet it may be one of his most mature, and profound works. The film looks at Watanabe's life not just from the singular perspective of it's protagonist, but from the people around him, his friends, his family, his co-workers, and the people he meets along his journeys. There are also flashbacks to past events that inform the emotional state of Watanabe as a character, so as events begin to transpire we are not affected by his character's journey alone, but by the feelings of those around him.
There is a sadness present in the film, but also a sense of happiness as the character begins to navigate a new purpose in life. Kurosawa unlike many other directors does not signal the moments of sadness or happiness in the film, rather the distance previously described allows the viewer to come to each at their own terms. Of course Kurosawa's shot composition is entirely creative and used to maximum effect in watching Watanabe's end of life journey. He also ends up creating some of the most subtly beautiful moments in his entire filmography. The performance from Takashi Shimura is one of the true great performances subtle, isolated, and appropriately somber, yet a true presence that is impossible keep one's eyes off of.
Criterion have done a wonderful job restoring Ikiru for their Blu-ray release of the film. The film is presented in a 1080p AVC encoded 1:37:1 transfer preserving the films original aspect ratio. Contrast is quite excellent throughout, and there is excellent detail and texture present. There is some damage from the source that couldn't be fixed, but it is quite subtle, and natural, and never distracting.
The soundtrack is an LPCM 2.0 mono track in the films native Japanese with optional English subtitles. The track sounds quite nice with dialogue, and score coming through nicely. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Criterion have put together quite an excellent package for their release of Ikiru. The Blu-ray contains the Stephen Prince commentary from the 2003 DVD release of the film that still holds up as a quite informative listen. Further, we get a 90 minute documentary called A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Movies that goes behind the scenes on Kurosawa's working methods. We also get a 41 minute documentary from Toho on Ikiru. The set is wrapped by the film's trailer, and a booklet of liner notes.
Ikiru is one of the most emotionally powerful, and subtly gorgeous film in Kurosawa's long career. It is grounded by a powerhouse performance by Takashi Shimura. The Blu-ray from Criterion looks and sound fantastic, and is loaded up with relevant and informative extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.