Tuesday, August 31, 2010

IKIRU (Japanese) (1952)

“I can’t afford to hate people. I haven’t got that kind of time.”

Bow my head to the Master again. Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ikiru’ is a moving and engrossing experience for me and a kind of film which makes deep impact for a long time. If ‘Rashomon’ and ‘Seven Samurai’ are the two giant pillars of Kurosawa accomplishment, ‘Ikiru’ is one of the finest breathing document of humanity ever made by him. Beyond all intellectual baggage he told the simple story in its fine sublimity proving it the best humanitarian film of his career. On the contrary this is quite unique Kurosawa film abstained from everything which made him famous in his long glorious career. No samurai! No Toshiro Mifune! No action or moving shots! No Shakespeare! Instead it’s a simple and too slow film about an ordinary man and perhaps the longest Kurosawa film with duration of around two and half hours and yet it manage to touch all the right chords at right place.

Much before we witness the protagonist we see the X ray photo of protagonist’s stomach cancer as film begins. Next we follow an old man Watanabe working diligently as chief of Public Affairs Department along with other useless bureaucratic employees avoiding their duties and passing their time in gossips. It’s during one of his visit to hospital check up; we witness the first brilliant scene of the film, with many to follows. At hospital he meets an unknown patient explaining him that if doctor tells one that it’s mild ulcer, he’s lying and next he starts explaining the exact symptoms of stomach cancer who won’t live longer than six months. We witness the expressions of shock and fear of death on the face of our protagonist closer to the camera who’s still unaware about his illness and yet much before his visit to Doctor, he knew damn well the most unfortunate truth of life. In the next frame he’s facing the doctor to know his diagnosis and the doctor responded him as suggested by stranger.

Back home he faces his unconcerned and selfish son Mitsuo and his wife who’re interested in his retirement money. Flashbacks of life’s journey meet the chilling unshared silence of death and its loneliness. He tries to set alarm as per routine before sleep and suddenly throws it furiously and thinking his remaining time left to life. As he’s trying to sleep, the camera pans on the wall showing his certificates of recognition for his distinguished civil service, seems so futile against sobbing old man in his bed. What a scene!

Next morning he left the home and office surprisingly. In a bar he meets a drunken writer with whom he shared his ill fate. It is also memorable scene where the writer said- “Misfortune teaches us the truth…we humans are so careless. We only realize how beautiful life is when we chance upon death. But few of us are actually able to face death; the worst ones know nothing of life till they die. You were a slave to your life, now you’re the master… Greed to live is not vice but virtue.” Next he shows him a beautiful metaphor of life and death in form of vending machine liberating silver ball. Along with writer friend he starts enjoying drinking, visiting night clubs and a company of women. But soon fade up with them all. The next day by chance he spares a day with a young employee girl of his office and helps her to fix her resignation.
The next day he meets the same girl in a restaurant; another soul stirring scene shows the final phase of human desire ends with fine metaphors of toy bunny and rebirth. As he finally realizes that he should live for larger cause, no matter how small cause is. He surprisingly returns to his office and ultimately devotes rest of his life to build a park in underprivileged locality against all bureaucratic odds and hurdles. I envy the last day of his life. So content is he with his life- sitting on swing, singing a song under falling snow waiting to embrace his death.

For the old man the achievement of life not lies in his fellow collegues’ comment in his absence that he didn’t miss a single day of work in his office for thirty years nor does it lie in his Government Certificates but in small and kind gesture of humanity that makes him feel happy, justifying the utility of his existence. Takashi Shimura is permanent entry in my favorite screen character along with Carlo Batisti of Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Umberto D.’ co-incidentally released the same year. Like Batisti, his face expresses volumes of expressions and Kurosawa captured all of them with all not to miss close ups.

Despite its sadness, ‘Ikiru’ is ultimately not just a film where death of protagonist becomes just routine emotional purgation for the audience like many of its popular clone films. Kurosawa and Shimura gave it valuable height by making it one of the most positive film about life. Kurosawa gave a brilliant message for every living being- To achieve anything abstract like satisfaction, love or happiness in the most inner space of one’s soul; one has to suffer in life. Just like all the moods and shades of life, suffering too is the united part of life and not contradictory. A selfless suffering returns the immense happiness difficult to measure compared to any sort of momentary happiness. I don’t get the point why Master stretched the last one hour too long with nonlinear flashback running parallel to the static scene; is he tried to show in those multiple perspectives and repercussions post Watanabe’s death or pointing fingers towards the corrupt degenerative bureaucracy of postwar Japan of those days?

By all means a film one must watch before die.
PS- An interesting anecdote about how Hrishida inspired to make ‘Anand’?

While visiting Cannes Film Festival for the first time with the entry of ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, Director Bimal Roy and writer-editor Hrishikesh Mukherjee met Satyajit Ray who was surprised to see them. He insisted both of them to watch Kurosawa’s ‘Ikiru’ and the rest is the history. Hrishida is one of my all-time admirable Indian directors and ‘Anand’ is surely well made Indian adaptation but the focal point of the original is lost in too dark and emotional second half.


Luv said...

I wish more filmmakers in India watch this wonderful film...

Luv said...

underplaying sentimentality is typical of good Japanese films, the opposite is true about Indian. Still, both have impressed and shaped each other...

Gr8 review.