Ikiru (1952) (Blu-ray Review)
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Shin’ichi Himori
Rated: UR/Region A/1:37/1080p/Number of Discs 1
Available from Criterion Collection (Direct)
Kanji Watanabe is a longtime bureaucrat in a city office who, along with the rest of the office, spends his entire working life doing nothing. He learns he is dying of cancer and wants to find some meaning in his life. He finds himself unable to talk with his family, and spends a night on the town with a novelist, but that leaves him unfulfilled. He next spends time with a young woman from his office, but finally decides he can make a difference through his job… After Watanabe’s death, co-workers at his funeral discuss his behavior over the last several months and debate why he suddenly became assertive in his job to promote a city park, and resolve to be more like Watanabe.
If you want to see a prime example of good storytelling, then look no further than 1952’s Ikiru, a story about an old man who is at the end of his life when he realizes he never had really lived. In this two-hour epic, we follow this man as he finds out he has stomach cancer and knows the end is coming. From then he withdraws a nice amount of money and find helps along the way to relive his past memories and try to make some new ones before ultimately settling on just what to do. I loved this movie, I really did. There isn’t anything flashy in this black and white film, and even with subtitles you can feel the real emotion that often seems to be spilling off the screen and touching you along the way. Japanese cinema always seems to know the right button to push. The right look to give at a certain moment. Or even the right tone of music to hit at the right word said to make it mean the most. All of the comes into play here and you feel really awful for our leading character. You then of course cheer him on alone the way and you feel good for him when he’s up and feel really bad for him when he’s down. They just don’t seem to make movies like this now days and that is a real shame.
Part of the reason this one goes over so well is the simple path it takes. Without a bell or a whistle it keeps things level, realistic, and meaningful. Keeping with that theme, this movie really gets you during the last part of it. Yes, it is a long movie, but it is worth every minute and if the movie gets you like it gets most who see it, I’m sure you might find yourself a bit misty-eye’d by the time the film closes with the now iconic shot that is well-known for those who seen it, but will go without saying just for the sake of the review and the meaning behind it that I hope first time watchers find. Like I said, this is a classic that one has a hard time saying anything bad about, so if you haven’t seen it, then by all means do so. As far as how this one looks, it looks great for a film this old. There are some good detail and only small amounts of film damages and specs seem to make it to the transfer. Everything looks good and natural and at least on my set, I didn’t really notice any grain. All in all I’d call this a must buy for Criterion fans and for fans of film in general.
– New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
– Audio commentary from 2004 by Stephen Prince, author of The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
– A Message from Akira Kurosawa (2000), a ninety-minute documentary produced by Kurosawa Productions and featuring interviews with Kurosawa
– Documentary on Ikiru from 2003, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create, and featuring interviews with Kurosawa, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, writer Hideo Oguni, actor Takashi Shimura, and others
– Essays by critic and travel writer Pico Iyer and critic Donald Richie
Quality of Transfer: 98%