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aka - To Live
Japan 1952
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
143 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Akira Kurosawa’s story of the last six months of a dull office worker, Kanji Watanabe (47-year old Kurosawa regular, Takashi Shimura), dying of stomach cancer is a somewhat old-fashioned-looking film that despite its banal subject matter still demonstrates why Kurosawa is one of the greats of cinema history with scene after scene of outstanding visual mastery.

In addition to being an account of how the central character finds a purpose in life it is also an informative image of 1950s Tokyo with some remarkable (and presumably not intentionally, very funny) scenes depicting the influence of American jazz culture on the city’s denizens of the night. Like Ozu’s films Ikiru is also concerned with depicting aspects of the Japanese social order, in particular its high valuation of self-sacrifice and conformity and the cost these exact from its subject - an intimidatingly life-deadening routine which Kurosawa treats with gently satirical humour,

 Engaging as this is, at least from a contemporary Western perspective the film is too long with the final 40 minutes or so being given over to Watanabe's wake, at which his colleagues, who have grown increasingly sentimental as they become inebriated, come to realize the significance of his final act. Whilst this is integral to Kurosawa’s purpose, with the central character out of the way and the main story effectively resolved, one cannot help but wish that the director had found a more economical way to achieve his aim. The final scene is, however, a moving testament to the small victories of life.

FYI: The film was lovingly remade in 2022 as Living written by Kazuo Ishiguro and directed by Oliver Hermanus with Bill Nighy in the lead.




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