#129: Ikiru (1952)

When and how did I watch this?

May 29th and 30th, 2016, on Hulu Plus.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Back to back Kurosawa films, but this one is over 30 years prior.

What do I know about it now?

I felt like I resonated with this film at times, but I think it was literally lost in translation too often. I would guess that a translation from an eastern language into English isn’t going to carry over perfectly, but I noticed that the subtitles were often repetitive and unimaginative (“but the thing is…” “what I’m trying to say…” “how do I put it?”). I didn’t like how the movie was generally laid out, either: the main protagonist is dead not even halfway through, and we’re left to “hear” the story in flashback format by a bunch of stuffy politicians and public officials, with the occasional interjection from people entering the room at a sake-saturated wake.  Additionally, the cinematography is somewhat lacking, and one can’t expect much from a Japanese 1952 film, but I guess I expected more from another Kurosawa picture. The story works for the most part — we’re left to contemplate the value of our lives, and how quickly we can forget to actually live — but I wish it were told better.

What are some themes in the film?

Life/death, hedonism, temperance, bureaucracy, pride

Did this affect me personally?

Occasionally.  The poignant scenes are too short; likewise, the less important scenes – particularly the about-town portion of the film — are painfully extended. It’s generally memorable and delivers an important message.

Why is this ranked #129?

It’s on here because it’s a Kurosawa film, but I think it’s embarrassing that it’s ranked above Ran (even one space). It feels like the director is still learning how to properly tell a story. It’s hard to imagine that Seven Samurai would be made two years later.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She liked it more than I did. I felt it was too slow, but it worked for her.

Would I watch it again?

No. It’s not terrible, but it was hard to watch the first time. It would probably be tiresome the second round.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Again, Kurosawa’s work is worth a look, but this isn’t one of his best, in my opinion.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

You can justify it and say, “Well, think about when the film was made, and which country it was from,” but I think it would be insulting to superior movies made in the same time period using the same resources. Perhaps this film put Kurosawa on the map, but he clearly hadn’t hit his stride yet. Already, I believe this man is one of the top five directors of all time (and I have more films of his to see), but this one isn’t a good example of his work.

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