Akira Kurosawa’s tale of a man diagnosed with stomach cancer is a contemplation of the nature of existence and the question of how we find meaning in our lives.

The story of a man diagnosed with stomach cancer, Ikiru (Living) is a serious contemplation of the nature of existence and the question of how we find meaning in our lives.

Opening with a shot of an x-ray, showing the main character’s stomach, Ikiru tells the tale of a dedicated, downtrodden civil servant who, diagnosed with a fatal cancer, learns to change his dull, unfulfilled existence, and suddenly discovers a zest for life. Plunging first into self-pity, then a bout of hedonistic pleasure-seeking on the frenetic streets of post-war Tokyo, Watanabe – the film’s hero – finds himself driven to give some meaning to his life, finally finding satisfaction through building a children’s playground.

Ikiru (the literal translation of the title is ‘To Live’) stands out as something of an exception among Kurosawa’s films – it lacks violence and, although set in post-war Japan, does not involve crime.

Beautifully played by Takashi Shimura (who starred in 21 of Kurosawa’s films), Ikiru is an intensely lyrical and moving film, and was one of Kurosawa’s own favourites.

The time-structure of Ikiru is unusual and complex, unexpected in the way that it both stretches and foreshortens time. Not until some hundred minutes into the film does Watanabe find the purpose that he has been searching for – and immediately after his death we jump forward to its immediate aftermath. And only then, via an intricate sequence of flashbacks, do we learn just what it was that Watanabe stubbornly achieved in the last few months of his life. The last sequence also includes one of the most poignant moments in all cinema – proof of how skilfully Kurosawa can switch moods at a moment’s notice.

Special features

  • Filmed introduction by director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy).
  • Biographies of Kurosawa and Mifune.

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      • 2 Europe (except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland, French Overseas departments and territories

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