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Film Club: Ikiru (1952)

IkiruThe May 2012 edition of our Akira Kurosawa Online Film Club features Ikiru, one of Kurosawa’s best known and most loved works, and the signature film of Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura who plays the leading role.

In Ikiru, Kurosawa returns to a setup and theme similar to one that he had explored only a few years earlier in two back-to-back films, Drunken Angel (1948) and The Quiet Duel (1949), while the 1950 work Scandal also featured difficult-to-cure disease as a prime motivator of character action. As in those films, the events of Ikiru are fuelled by the protagonist’s struggle with a life-threatening disease, although when compared with the earlier works, the results of Watanabe’s actions are more positive and less personal. Of these early medical dramas (if I am allowed a very lose definition of the term), Ikiru is arguably the most successful, and it was also Kurosawa’s last such film until he returned to the theme of physical disease in the 1965 work Red Beard.

Much praise has been lavished on Ikiru. Prince sees the film as nothing less than being “among Kurosawa’s most radical experiments with form and among his most searching inquiries into the nature and morality of human feeling, particularly in relation to its structuring by the cinematic image.” (100) He goes on to discuss Kurosawa’s connection with Brecht’s plays and especially the playwright’s method of “complex seeing”, where “the viewpoint of a play would emerge from a multivoiced montage of theatrical elements — characters, gesture, dialogue, set design, projected films and titles — rather than be easily localized within any one of these elements”, a method which Prince identifies also in Kurosawa, and especially so in the cinematic structure of Ikiru.

This Brechtian “complex seeing” is evident in the film’s utilisation of multiple points of view, which on the most basic level is structurally accomplished by the film being divided into two fairly independent parts, the latter of which consists of an almost rashomonesque attempt of interpreting the sequence and moving force behind the now-deceased main character’s actions. This structure was suggested by Kurosawa’s co-writer Hideo Oguni, a by then well respected screenwriter whom Kurosawa had known from the beginning of his career, but with whom he formally collaborated in Ikiru for the first time. The two were joined by Shinobu Hashimoto who had already worked with Kurosawa on Rashomon, and Ikiru therefore marks the first time that Hashimoto, Kurosawa and Oguni wrote together, forming one of film history’s most talented screenwriting trios, who would go on to collaborate, with occasional additional helping hands, on all of Kurosawa’s films for the rest of the 1950s, with the exception of The Lower Depths, to which Hashimoto did not contribute.

The narrative structure of Ikiru is discussed in length by many, including Richie as well as Goodwin in his book Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema. And although Goodwin does not mention it in his book, a certain level of traditional intertextuality was present also in Ikiru as, having just previously finished his Dostoevsky adaptation with The Idiot, Kurosawa turned to Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich as a thematic starting point for Ikiru (Galbraith, 156). The link, however, remains purely thematic in the finished film.

Several critics have talked about the feminine characteristics of Ikiru. Yoshimoto argues that “Watanabe is is consistently feminized”, something that is “most conspicuously manifested in his muteness” and in the way that he associates with female characters, even himself becoming a “maternal character” in his mission to push forward the construction of the children’s park (201). Also the character of Toyo, Watanabe’s inspiration in finding a new meaning for his life, has received much attention. Catherine Russell goes as far as to call her the “only really interesting female character in Kurosawa’s entire cinema”.

Ikiru is of course also a post-war film, and western influences are to be seen almost everywhere in the work. Some of them are for the better and some for the worse, and they range from various forms of popular entertainment to the nature of the bureaucratic machine itself within which Watanabe works, and which he ends up fighting. It has also been suggested that Watanabe’s cancer is in fact a metaphor for the westernisation of Japan.

Joan Mellen has argued in The Waves at Genji’s Door that while Kurosawa’s film condemns the Americanization of Japan, it does not blame the occupiers. In Mellen’s view, the underlying message of the film is that if your life is empty and without purpose, it is only you who are to blame, as change has to come from an individual awakening and effort. (231-233) In this view, it is not the occupiers who are to be blamed for Japan’s allegedly blind adaptation of foreign influences, but the Japanese themselves.

When released, Ikiru was an enormous critical and commercial success, winning among other things the Kinema Junpo Award for the best film of the year as well as a silver bear in Berlin. It remains one of Kurosawa’s best known and most highly praised works, and the simple question that the work poses the viewer — you may exist, but do you live? — continues to resonate well with today’s audiences.

We last discussed the film in late 2008, when the following threads were created:

Ikiru: A Painting
Ikiru: Nippon Beer and Critique of Post-War Society
Ikiru: The Remake
Ikiru: The Seat of the Soul
Ikiru: The Son
Ikiru: The Yakuza Boss
Ikiru: Tilted Wipes
Ikiru: Trains

For the availability of Ikiru, I recommend my DVD guide.

Finally, I would like to remind you that in June, we will be watching Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, which not only concludes the Noriko trilogy of Ozu films, but also shares certain themes with Ikiru, most notably the difficulty of communication between parents and children. For the full schedule of our film club, see the film club page.


Discussion

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Ugetsu

As an aside, and considering we’ve been discussing Ozu a lot recently here, I see that Roger Ebert in his regular listing of his top ten films in his vote for the Sight and Sound ‘Best film of all time’ poll, considers Tokyo Story and Ikiru as pretty much interchangeable. It is odd how these two such different films are considered such a pair (and for the record, I can’t make up my mind which one I prefer either, they are both competitors for my all time favourite film).

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Longstone

Interesting , I too love both films , and would have them contending amongst my favourites of all time. Something to do with the human emotions and frustrations that they both seem to illustrate very well , and perhaps to do with the impact they had on me when I saw them for the first time.
They are different films but going back a few years when there were many less Japanese films available for home viewing , these were some of the very few titles that didn’t have Samurai or Gangsters in … and I was amazed how they kept my attention and I could feel the emotion in an old, foreign language, black and white movie. I was utterly captivated by both films on first viewing . Tokyo story was my first Ozu but I had seen a number of Kurosawa’s period films before , but I think seeing Ikiru was the point when I realised there was a whole lot more to him than Samurai movies.

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Vili Maunula

An interesting list. I can understand why the two films would be considered similar, even if they are quite different. They do have some shared themes, were made a year from each other, and are among the best works by the two masters of Japanese cinema.

I too love both films.

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Ugetsu

I watched Ikiru last night – first time this year – I think I’ve seen it about 6 or 7 times in total, once in the cinema. Here are a few random thoughts – some of these may be worth a separate thread, feel free anyone to take one on….

1. I would expect a film with such an emotional punch to lose its power with repeated viewings. But for me, it gets more powerful every time I watch it – I find it very hard to view this film in a dispassionate way, it shakes me up so much. I suppose this is the difference between a film with manipulative sentimentality (which can ambush a viewer the once), and a film with real emotional depth.

2. The more times I watch it, the more astonished I am by the complexity and enormous skill of the key sequences. The scene where Watanabe lies in despair in his room, remembering his life since his wife died is incredible. The night-town scene is a movie in its own right – every tiny detail seems perfect. I am just awestruck at the skill involved and I wonder why so few film makers seem to be able to match this, even with such a great model to follow.

3. I love the character of Toyo the more I watch it – as so often watching these old films I wonder why such a wonderful actress as Miki Odagiri seems to have had quite a sparse film career.

4. I think this film has maybe the finest ensemble of any Kurosawa film (at least the equal of Seven Samurai). There are so many wonderful little characters – I particularly love how all the bureaucrats manage to have such distinct and clear personalities. Every time I watch the film another character seems to pop out at me and I think ‘why didn’t I notice him before?’ I guess this was one of the benefits of the studio system, having so many great character actors on call even for minor parts.

5. Related to the above, I couldn’t help wonder if other Kurosawa films would have been better without Mifune. For all his incredible charisma, when in a film he sometimes seems like a black hole, sucking the light out of the characters around him. The ‘ordinariness’ of Shimura seems to have allowed Kurosawa to focus more on the minor characters, to the overall benefit of the film. I think one of the many admirable features of Shimuras performance is that he managed to be the focus of the film without ever stealing the thunder of any of the other actors in any particular scene.

6. I am more intrigued by the character of Mitsuo, Watanabe’s son. Some writers describe him as a ‘lout’ and he seems generally to be a very unsympathetic character, but I wonder if this was really intended. I wonder if Kurosawa’s point was not that Mitsuo and his wife Kazue were cruel to Watanabe, but that Watanabe had not properly accepted that when Mitsuo married, then his focus would rightly be on his wife and future children, not his father. It is Mitsuo and Kasue who are practical and realistic, focusing on their future. I’m intrigued by the final scenes at the funeral where Mitsuo and Kazue stare in puzzlement at their late fathers hat when they realise they didn’t know him at all. Was this meant to be their comeuppance? I can’t help thinking how different this central father/son/daughter-in-law relationship would have been in an Ozu film.

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cocoskyavitch

Stange, Ugetsu, Roger Ebert saying he would find Tokyo Story and Ikiru interchangeable. Although both treat of one’s family to a greater or lesser degree-one really is about regret and loss and one really is about finding redemption.

I should call them complementary pieces rather than interchangeable-and “complementary” as in colors on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Ozu’s aesthetic is a sentiment of mono-no-aware…Kurosawa’s is about individual choice and responsibility. They are both tough and hard in their honesty – they pull no punches.

Ozu’s work is painful and deeply cutting and one aches after viewing. Kurosawa’s work offers hope and a lightening of one’s burdens-there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

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lawless

Coco – Based on your description, I’m even more convinced that Tokyo Story was the Ozu film that I saw back in law school. While all I remember about it is the gulf between a middle-aged father and his children (I don’t remember Hara’s character at all), I did see echoes of its subject matter when I first watched Ikiru.

I hve to confess that I find Ikiru a little hard to watch. Not because Watanabe dies but because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Watanabe gets the playground built, but his department goes back to his old ways. Watanabe and his son don’t reconcile. His son learning after Watanabe’s death that there was more to him than met the eye doesn’t change anything.

Since the first half of the movie is told from Watanabe’s point of view, I think we’re meant to empathize with him over the gulf between him and his son. The differences between the more Western lifestyle and furnishings of Mitsuo and his wife when compared to Watanabe’s more traditional one is a criticique of the effect of Western culture on parent-child relationships thatilluminates a generation gap that the war and occupation has either caused or exacerbated. How sad for Watanabe that his relationship with his son is so hollow that he is essentially alone after his wife dies and that his son’s knowledge of him is so superficial that he assumes that Toyo is Watanabe’s paramour.

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Ugetsu

Lawless

I hve to confess that I find Ikiru a little hard to watch. Not because Watanabe dies but because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Watanabe gets the playground built, but his department goes back to his old ways. Watanabe and his son don’t reconcile. His son learning after Watanabe’s death that there was more to him than met the eye doesn’t change anything.

But surely this is one of the points of the film? It doesn’t matter that the department wasn’t reformed because Watanabe wasn’t interested in reforming it. It doesn’t particularly matter that he didn’t reconcile with his son, because Watanabe accepted that in the greater scheme of things, that didn’t matter. What matters is that Watanabe succeeded at the small, but concrete thing he tried to achieve. He knew it was small, but he knew that a few families lives were better because of it. He didn’t care about getting credit, or shaming his colleagues, such things only matter to the living. Watanabe got to define the meaning of his own life, and that is surely the ultimate triumph for anyone.

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lawless

Ugetsu – You may be right that these things don’t matter to Watanabe, although I can’t believe he wouldn’t welcome a closer relationship with his son during the time he has left, but they matter to me and my response to the film. I don’t think Watanabe’s co-workers’ vow to maintain the spirit he’s shown is entirely disingenuous, but subsequent events prove that they are only deluding themselves.

This puts a crimp in my enjoyment of the movie because I want Watanabe‘s actions to have some systemic effect. Without it, I don’t feel the redemptive release the movie strives for. All Watanabe did was benefit the children in the vicinity of the former sump. Whatever personal satisfaction that provided ended with his death. I know that for many viewers (such as yourself, I presume), the fact that Watanabe lifts himself above mediocrity and accomplishes something worthwhile before his death is enough. For me, it’s not.

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Fred

lawless – I have to side with Ugetsu on this one.
There is no doubt that our personal philosophy and attitude towards the human condition are the main determinants of how we perceive a film. My personal experience taught me that Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” is the most satisfying approach. You may be convinced that one can indeed make a change that goes beyond a personal level — I am not. To me, Watanabe‘s action did make a difference: Agreed, his achievements had only an extremely short-lived effect on his colleagues (the maior played an ugly role in making everyone go back to “business as usual”). Yet I strongly believe that Watanabe did manage to sensitize them. Watanabe‘s actions did not carry quite enough momentum to make his colleagues change their ways; yet he did set an example. Anyone following suit would sensitize them even more… until they would eventually begin to act differently themselves.
I wish progress would come in one big step instead of taking an incremental an tortuous path.

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lawless

Everyone – my point is being missed. I don’t disagree with you on a philosophical or analytical level. The movie doesn’t deliver for me because Watanabe’s estrangement from his son and the failure of anyone else to follow his example make it too melancholy.

One of the reasons I like Kurosawa’s films so much is because they deal with how individuals relate to society as a whole and not just how they relate to each other, as I would say Ozu’s films do. But in this case, the only triumph is of the individual. No societal change is effected. Contrast this to Drunken Angel, in which the doctor loses one patient but saves another.

As a result, even though overall Drunken Angel isn’t as accomplished a film as Ikiru (although it has a structural unity Ikiru lacks), I like it better.

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Fred

lawless – I agree with you that Watanabe‘s actions have no more than a very short-term impact on his co-workers. Nevertheless, his enthusiasm — albeit possibly only founded in very personal goals — does excite his colleagues temporarily and, at least for a short while, he is a role model for them. IMHO, being a positive role model is precisely the behavior behind social changes for the better. Although Watanabe did not aim for his son to understand him any better, although he did not convey his motivation to his co-workers, although he did not make himself understood to Toyo, i.e. despite all the melancholy, the movie makes me feel good (not just on a philosophical level), because I strongly believe in the power of positive role models, even if they do not aim to change society, even if we do not understand their motivation.
The same can be said about “Ame agaru” (雨あがる, “After the Rain”): Ihei has a positive influence on most people he interacts with. The ones willing to understand him may (!) end up changed… The viewer needs to complete the story in her/his mind.

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lawless

Fred – We don’t read the movie quite the same way. As far as we know, nothing happens other than an initial burst of enthusiasm that isn’t followed by any action. I see this as strongly implying that his colleagues have slipped back and will reamain transfixed by the kind of ennui that Watanabe suffered from before his diagnosis, thus resulting in no social change beyond that caused by the building of the playground itself.

You could be right; Watanabe’s example could bear fruit later on, possibly in some unforeseen way not having to do with local bureaucracy. But that’s mere speculation. The movie itself doesn’t suggest that.

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Fred

lawless – You are right, our emotional responses to the film differ, and that is due to different expectations regarding the social impact of the protagonists’s actions. In an earlier posting you wrote:

I know that for many viewers (…), the fact that Watanabe lifts himself above mediocrity and accomplishes something worthwhile before his death is enough. For me, it’s not.

I belong to those “many viewers”. I believe that directors and script writers intend to make viewers use their imagination to finish the story. Even the tiniest lesson from Watanabe‘s actions can remain stuck in his pencil-pushing co-workers’ minds where it just might eventually fall on fertile ground.
Your view of things does not leave room for hope. Although I agree with your statement

… that’s mere speculation.

, I strongly feel that AK wants us to project. What about the hiker in “Village of the Watermills”, who is shown as an interested observer — does he take the old man’s messages to heart? Don’t we want to holler: “Stay in that village, or — at least — learn from what you experienced.”? To me, conjecture and the viewer going beyond the material directly depicted in a movie is what makes films fun. Our particular social and cultural backgrounds will make us interpret films differently and our emotional responses will differ.

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Amnesty11

Fred:

IMHO, being a positive role model is precisely the behavior behind social changes for the better.

I am torn about this film. I have heard about it for over a year, it’s my Japanese instructor’s favorite Kurosawa flick. Maybe it was the build up after also reading reviews and critics raves but it left me disappointed. I didn’t care much for Watanabe. He got on my nerves. I couldn’t even stand the song he sang a few times. But loved Toyo, absolutely loved her. AK found the perfect person to embody youth and glow and energy so beaming that it felt like I could feel her body heat jump off the screen! No wonder the decaying Watanabe half fell in love with her! Who wouldn’t ?

I agree with you Lawless. I must have been expecting an ending in which more people took up where Watanabe left off because his final project (the playground) and his stoicism are clearly deeply treasured by his son and his co-workers.

I think I’m torn because what I found moving was not that he died (in fact there was a moment that I believe I said out loud, “die already!”) or that he accomplished some great personal dream. I found moving the fact that “to live” means, for most of us, to NOT push the boundaries of our lives, even when we are confronted with something so beautiful, so altruistic, so purposeful, even when we too want to accomplish these things and we know that if we were brave enough in our hearts and souls, we could. Because other people do.

Haven’t we all done this? I have. A hundred, thousand times and counting. I have been knocked flat by something I have read about someone’s account of giving up everything, moving to Africa and helping build schools for girls. I have seen documentaries on people who rushed to New Orleans to help after Katrina and all the other natural disasters in the world. I have seen/read/heard about people devoting themselves to their art and leaving corporate America behind, because truly it’s the right thing to do. On and on and on and on. I get inspired, I do a little of it, and then – I stop. I don’t want to stop, but you know, life is already happening one particular way and to change that locomotion …well it seems a nearly impossible feat. And maybe THAT’s the point of that “anti-climatic” ending – at least to me. And that is what is sad, not that people were ignoring Watanabe’s accomplishment, but that they were being so damn human. So flawed. So fearful, really, of their own possible release into their true potential.

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cocoskyavitch

And maybe THAT’s the point of that “anti-climatic” ending – at least to me. And that is what is sad, not that people were ignoring Watanabe’s accomplishment, but that they were being so damn human. So flawed. So fearful, really, of their own possible release into their true potential.

I fear you are right, Amnesty-about all of it, including our own complicity with the living mummies of Watanabe’s office in burying ourselves alive.

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lawless

Fred wrote:

Your view of things does not leave room for hope.

This is true, and that’s why not only does the movie not do for me what it does for most other people, I don’t think it does what Kurosawa intended it to do, either. This is entirely my personal reaction, but it nevertheless dampens my enjoyment of the film.

Also, I’m not familiar with Village of the Windmills (I assume that’s a movie). Could you explain your reference to it?

I consider this one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces, but it’s slightly below Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Throne of Blood in my estimation.

Amnesty11: That’s an interesting analysis. I still think Kurosawa meant it as an example of what one person who is determined to make his existence matter can do, but perhaps you’re just coming at it from the opposite side. But I agree completely with the statement of yours that Coco quotes above.

FWIW, for me the Kurosawa movie that everyone raved about — in fact, the movie that was the reason I particularly wanted to see his movies to begin with — that left me cold was Rashomon. (Its artistry — from cinematography to music to acting to writing — was always evident, though, so it was a masterpiece that I admired but didn’t enjoy.) Fortunately, I saw Seven Samurai — my favorite movie of all time — first. And although my comments here may make it seem otherwise, I’ve come to like and enjoy Rashomon more as time has gone on, having just watched it for the third time.

I haven’t rewatched Ikiru yet — will probably do so tomorrow — but I remember it fairly well from the last time I watched it. The acting is masterful, and the montage of the neighborhood women being shuttled from office to office is not only hilarious (and oh too true) but is probably the best example of montage in film ever. Sorry, Ugestu, in my opinion, the montage in Stray Dog pales in comparison.

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Fred

lawless – Sorry for not being clear about The Village of the Watermills — I was referring to the last sequence in AK’s Dreams (夢, yume): http://vimeo.com/31359086
Wikipedia – Dreams

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lawless

Fred — I have yet to watch Dreams, so without a reference to the movie itself, I wouldn’t recognize the reference. Thanks for clearing that up.

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Fred

Please accept my apologies for harping on my opinion that screenwriter and director were indeed intent on having the viewer’s (mentally) participate. I would like to present an additional argument in support of my belief: The scene where Watanabe‘s son and daughter-in-law call him, demanding that he closes the door, the scene where we first think that he ends up telling his son about his terminal disease, and finally the funeral scene where the maior and Watanabe‘s colleagues, despite their initial enthusiasm for Watanabe‘s work, gradually distance themselves from him, weren’t these scenes written to make the viewer protest and explain “Let me tell you that you did not really understand Watanabe, I know better, I have more information — please listen to me…”? I am absolutely convinced that a movie talks to the viewers, kind of interacts with them, aims to get them actively involved. A good deed (even a selfish one, as some may think Watanabe‘s actions were) cannot leave us untouched and may eventually, not necessarily immediately, evoke changes in our own mindset.

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lawless

Now that I’ve rewatched Ikiru, I’m reminded of how much I like it. It doesn’t quite work as well for me as my most favorite Kurosawa films, but it’s just a step below them.

The acting in this movie is generally terrific. Shimura’s pitch perfect as Watanabe. Clearly his role in Scandal was a precursor, or maybe even a rehearsal, for this one. Others have already justifiably praised the ensemble.

The script is generally terrific, too, although I find the reluctance to believe that Watanabe knew about his illness a bit bewildering. Isn’t that a more likely explanation of his uncharacteristic behavior in the last five months than that he entered into a heretofore uncharacteristic love affair with a younger woman? It does, however, show how little his family knows him.

It also strikes me as odd that Toyo doesn’t show up for the funeral. Admittedly, she’d be able to tell them that he knew, but she could pop in to light incense before that whole discussion gets going or Kurosawa could have shown a condolence message or gift basket that she sent.

Despite these quibbles, though, from a storytelling point of view, this is one of Kurosawa’s most masterful films. The stylistic gambles he takes as to what to show and what to leave out and how to structure the film pay off, although it does deny the movie the impact the use of the traditional stage unities (used to great effect in films like Seven Samurai and Yojimbo) provide.

The middle of the film sags a little bit.We may not need quite as many shots of Watanabe‘s discomfort and boredom while out on the town with his writer pal, and the later parts of the Toyo section drag. But that may also be my view that less is more with scenes that are more discomfiting than dramatic.

I agree with Ugetsu that this film’s emotional punch doesn’t fade with rewatching. It does a terrific job of demonstrating the emptiness of Watanabe’s life and his initial attempts to cope with the news of his illness. There are times, however, where the film teeters on the verge of sentimentality for me, mostly when he sings “Life is Brief” and the closing shot of him looking down on the playground. Is this what you meant, Amnesty11, about not liking the song, or were you commenting on the song itself? I think it’s a good choice, but it gets overused. Anyone know if it was a song from the 1910s, or was it composed for the movie? I’ve always assumed the former.

I love the character of Toyo, but there are a couple of reaction shots at the point where she’s beginning to tire of Watanabe’s attentions that don’t look quite right to me. They need to either be clearer or more layered. Instead, she looks constipated.

I also agree with Ugetsu’s comment on Mifune. He was sometimes miscast or overwhelmed his parts as well as overwhelming the films, though I disagree with Kurosawa’s assessment that he took over Drunken Angel. Sanada is by far my favorite character in that movie, Mifune notwithstanding. Same for Seven Samurai. I think it’s more that his acting style sometimes didn’t mesh well with more naturalistic actors.

On the other hand, I do think Mitsuo was meant to be, and is, an unsympathetic character. For one thing, a contemporary Japanese audience would certainly have found him so; he and his wife would come across as the selfish, careless post-war generation that had ceased to show respect for their elders as a result of their adoption of Western mores. They expect Watanabe, who after all has provided a home for them (presumably rent-free!), to use his retirement money to finance their purchase of a house of their own. While they may expect him to live there, it is the height of disrespect for them to want him to sell his home so they can live somewhere they like better and to use the threat of moving out to exact it. Contemporary expectation would have been (judging from Ozu’s films, among others) that the children would live with and help support their parents if they were no longer working.

Amnesty11 – Could you expand on why you reacted so negatively to Watanabe? Is it because he’s pathetic? I see him as an everyman; someone who tried to do his best at first but lost his passion for life and his work after his wife’s death. We know he’s a hard worker, though, and conscientious; you don’t not miss a day of work for 30 years without those traits, nor do you get to be section chief without some level of competence unless you have political connections, which the movie doesn’t show him as having. He’s a prototypical government bureaucrat and salaryman who’s just existing, not living. There are thousands, if not millions, of them around the world. Who better to show rising above his habitsi and ennui when faced with his own mortality?

I also said something aloud, but it was to say “You wouldn’t let him” when the son said at the funeral that his father would have told him if he’d been dying. Also, does anyone know if the uncle was Watanabe’s brother, his wife’s brother, or his sister’s husband?

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Fred

lawless – I am glad to hear that rewatching Ikiru was an overall positive experience for you. I definitetely agree with you about the charcater of Mitsuo and about the superb acting in general. Takashi Shimura is one of my favorite actors in AK’s movies…
According to the respective Wikipedia entry, the “gondola song” is from 1915, a figure pretty close the more general statement “from about 1910” which I had seen before.

As far as Toyo goes, I also believe that she is tiring of Watanabe — her personality just does not allow another response than the one we see.

I had to smirk about you saying aloud “You wouldn’t let him”, which proves my hypothesis about screenwriter & AK really looking for a response from the audience.

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Ugetsu

Lawless

Also, does anyone know if the uncle was Watanabe’s brother, his wife’s brother, or his sister’s husband?

imdb lists him as Kiichi Watanabe, Kanji’s brother. This surprised me as he seems such a very different character from Kanji.

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Vili Maunula

I finally had the time to watch Ikiru again, and confirmed that it was just as brilliant as it was the last time I watched it. In fact, I totally agree with Ugetsu in that this film just seems to be getting better and better. Perhaps the older I get, the more the message hits home.

Personally, I think that the film’s impact would be far smaller if it ended with some actual changes being made at the town hall. If that happened, the audience would walk away satisfied. But now we are left a little uneasy, maybe a little angry. We accuse the bureaucrats of falling back into a lazy comfortable existence rather than living an enjoyable and meaningful life. And maybe, as we do so, we remind ourselves not to make the same mistake. After all, if also we slip back into merely existing, it is true that as Lawless says, Watanabe’s death has had no larger meaning. I think that Fred is absolutely correct in stressing that this film is doing its best to get a reaction from the audience.

Lawless: It also strikes me as odd that Toyo doesn’t show up for the funeral.

I assume that she simply doesn’t know that Watanabe is dead. She probably never saw Watanabe after that last evening with him, and as she has been working elsewhere for quite a while now, there is no reason for the town hall or her previous colleagues to inform her, especially on such a short notice.

Lawless: does anyone know if the uncle was Watanabe’s brother, his wife’s brother, or his sister’s husband?

I’m pretty sure he was Watanabe’s brother, or that at least seems consistent with the characters’ behaviour while IMDb, JMDb and the Japanese Wikipedia all list him as such. It’s probably written in the script, which can be found at the AK Digital Archive (section 22.13.01), but I don’t have the patience to search right now. As much as I love their treasure trove, they could do with a better search function that would search inside the documents.

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cocoskyavitch

Yes, lawless, you are right about the song life is brief: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gondola_no_Uta
And, it is terribly painful to hear ol’ Shimura croaking it out…but, it’s not the first song on the topic…in fact, it reminds me a little of Lorenzo de Medici’s poem on love and the briefness of life:

Trionfo

YOUTH is sweet and well
But doth speed away!
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Bacchus and his Fair,
Contented with their fate,
Chase both time and care,
Loving soon and late;
High and low estate
With the nymphs at play;
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Laughing satyrs all
Set a hundred snares,
Lovelorn dryads fall
In them unawares:
Glad with wine, in pairs
They dance the hours away:
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Not unwillingly
Were these nymphs deceived:
From Love do but flee
Graceless hearts aggrieved:
Deceivers and deceived
Together wend their way.
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Fat Silenus nears
On an ass astride: (there is a wonderful Rubens painting in London’s National Gallery of Silenus, and another in the Alte in Munich..)
Full of wine and years,
Come and see him ride:
He lolls from side to side
But gleefully alway:
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Midas following,
Turneth all to gold:
What can treasure bring
To a heart that’s cold?
And what joy unfold
For who thirsteth, pray?
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Ears be very bold,
Count not on to-morrow:
Let both young and old,
Lads and lassies, borrow
Joy and banish sorrow.
Doleful thoughts and grey:
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Lads and lassies all,
Love and Bacchus Hail!
Dance and song befall!
Pain and sadness fail!
Tender hearts prevail,
Happen then what may!
Let who will be gay,
To-morrow, none can tell.
Youth is sweet and well
But doth speed away.

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lawless

Coco – Yes, it’s definitely an example of carpe diem/live for today. It’s not the song per se that I object to — I don’t mind the band playing it — but Watanabe singing along in public. The melody is lovely, but the lyrics, while appropriate to the circumstance, drip with sentimentality. Andrew Marvell it’s not.

It bothers me a little less when he sings it while he’s on the swing. Mostly, I feel a little emotionally manipulated by the closing shot of him looking down at the park and by actually seeing him swinging in the park, as opposed to just hearing about it, and secondhand embarrassment when he sings the song at the nightclub. Those are the only false notes, however, in an otherwise unsentimental film.

Vili – I know Toyo is no longer working at City Hall or in contact with her former colleagues, but are you saying that post-war Japan’s newspapers didn’t have obituaries? How did the women who had lobbied for the park know about his death — just because he’d died there?

I see your point about anyone else following Watanabe’s example within the confines of the movie. The first two times I saw the film, I felt so betrayed by the one colleague who seemed inclined to stick his neck out (I didn’t catch his name) backing down in the face of everyone else’s disapproval that it felt to me as though he’d been giving it lip service all along and didn’t really mean it. This time around, I sensed that he still felt that way but wasn’t courageous enough, or the occasion wasn’t important enough, for him to buck the system. Perhaps, Fred, you are right; he is likely to take such a stand sometime down the road, and Watanabe’s trail-blazing won’t have died with him. I never saw it that way before.

I realize that Toyo is tiring of Watanabe; I just found her expressions during that section of the movie hard to parse sometimes. She either used the same expression more than once, which doesn’t always work well in film, or looked confused. Your mileage may vary.

Thanks, everybody, for the info on the uncle. I too had thought he was Watanabe’s brother. It’s always possible for siblings to be totally different in looks and personality; I have a cousin who’s introverted, studious, and what would be called a goody-two-shoes; her younger sister and brother were both hellraisers in their youth (they once took their parents’ car for a ride around the block while their parents were out) and her brother is a fun-loving extrovert. Go figure.

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Vili Maunula

Lawless: Vili – I know Toyo is no longer working at City Hall or in contact with her former colleagues, but are you saying that post-war Japan’s newspapers didn’t have obituaries? How did the women who had lobbied for the park know about his death — just because he’d died there?

I must say I have no idea if Japanese newspapers of the time carried obituaries, or if people like Toyo would have read them. But we must remember that, unless I have misunderstood something, Watanabe was found dead around 11 in the evening, and the wake is held the next day. Even if obituaries were a custom in Japan at the time, there would probably not have been enough time for one to be posted.

It is curious though how quickly they have made an autopsy. Maybe it can be interpreted as saying something about the deputy mayor or his concerns.

And I would assume that the women who lobbied for the park heard about the death just like you suggested. If someone dies at a nearby park, word tends to get out.

Thanks for showing us the poem, Coco! It’s quite lovely.

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lawless

Vili – You’re right that the movie presents the wake as happening very quickly. I don’t know how seriously to take that timeline though, especially in light of the autopsy. I guess I was assuming a certain amount of exaggeration, even though that’s not typical of Kurosawa.

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Ugetsu

Fred

Please accept my apologies for harping on my opinion that screenwriter and director were indeed intent on having the viewer’s (mentally) participate.

I agree with you about this – I think the technique of having the viewer know more about Watanabe than any other character in the film helps us see the world from his side. It would be worth going through the film again in detail just to see if the camera positions (especially in the funeral scenes) were deliberately designed to make us feel that we are a participant, rather than a viewer.

I can’t quite find the link right now, but there was a discussion here a few years ago on the topic of minor characters representing ‘the audience’ in Kurosawa films – as an example, the policemen in High and Low or the Commoner in Rashomon. I do think that its important to recognise that Kurosawa was one of those directors who was always thinking of the audience, not as an abstract mass, but as individuals.

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Amnesty11

Well gang, I watched Ikiru a second time and did like it a little better. I had to get beyond my own experiences to enjoy the film a little. I guess sometimes we just come with our own baggage and it’s hard to leave it at the doorstep and relax into the film. But I have to say, I am still not the biggest fan of this film. I hope you won’t boot me out of the club, since I think I am really truly the only one among us who feels this way. I actually thought I might just skip entering anything more here ’cause it’s hard to be the odd woman out. But oh well, that’s what these forum are for, right? We get to say what we really feel…

I guess that Watanabe is not a character that calls to me. I have a hard time with his long pathetic stares into space – I think it’s rare that internal terror is communicated by an actor in a way that doesn’t feel untrue.

Lawless –

Could you expand on why you reacted so negatively to Watanabe? Is it because he’s pathetic?

For me, he didn’t quite hit the mark… I didn’t feel the pathos, he wasn’t pathetic to me. I mentioned this in another post, but I have been very close to cancerous death myself and I think this movie feels untrue. It feels like a “put on.” Shimura’s presentation of someone who thinks they are going to die of cancer seems very over acted and false. To me.

I have a hard time too with his vampiric (did someone else say that?) desire to re-energize the last days of his life with Toyo’s electric energy — although it was a subconscious desire to be around that kind of high wattage personality, of course, but it seemed unfair to her and very selfish of him. Even though he bought her stockings…which was kind, but so what? And even that felt vaguely sexual to me. I think she was an incredibly strong and self-perserving young woman and was smart to get out of that relationship when she did.

However, I must say that there is a weirdly charming moment between them when he has bought stockings for her and Kurosawa has this odd but wonderful choreography of them walking, and yet not walking, some kind of dancing or partnering, down the street together. She pushes him in front of her, puts her forehead on his back and he turns to look at her, circling back and she moves him forward again and then pulls up next to him and they continue down the street (she tells him in this moment, I think, that she was embarrassed by what she just said). It’s a truly lovely little dance, but one that leaves me a bit disturbed considering their age difference and also considering that he is so full of death and she is so full of life.

I also find it dripping with sentimentality that I can’t buy into. The song on the swing (yes Lawless, you have it right) is a good example. It’s just “too -too” for my taste. It’s a moment where Kurosawa is hitting me over the head (again) trying to tell me that life is short, enjoy it! Maybe I already get that and this isn’t anything new or very moving for me.

But where I could get into the film was everything “but” Watanabe’s story. I loved the “writer” that befriended him – the casting and costuming was excellent – My God he was Oscar Wilde! (but a straight Oscar!) The honky-tonk women were exquisite. The shot of the four of them in that taxi cab – brilliant. I seem to love those nightlife moments that Kurosawa is master of. The mobs of dancers dancing to the “Cuban” Jazz band.

(A friend of mine wrote Jazz Journeys to Japan – a fascinating study of Jazz history in Japan and well worth a read…)

Jump to Watanabe’s funeral. Again, not sad or moving to me, but the mise en scene was perfect. I loved watching and just “being there.” Part of such a totally different culture. I loved the way the Deputy Mayor exited the room the first time to talk to reporters, he doesn’t bow to anyone, he just puts his hand out towards them to signify bowing. Of course he does the deeply honorific bow, as they all do, to the bereaved family on his final exit. And once he exits, it becomes like a family feast. Everyone is chatting, moving closer to each other, happily bonding. The formality is gone because the big wigs have left. That’s such good cinema, it’s edible!

Ugetsu, I loved what you said:

But surely this is one of the points of the film? It doesn’t matter that the department wasn’t reformed because Watanabe wasn’t interested in reforming it. It doesn’t particularly matter that he didn’t reconcile with his son, because Watanabe accepted that in the greater scheme of things, that didn’t matter. What matters is that Watanabe succeeded at the small, but concrete thing he tried to achieve. He knew it was small, but he knew that a few families lives were better because of it. He didn’t care about getting credit, or shaming his colleagues, such things only matter to the living. Watanabe got to define the meaning of his own life, and that is surely the ultimate triumph for anyone.

That is the takeaway here. And we are all to learn from this surely.

I don’t know. Maybe I too will become like Vili and Lawless and Roger Ebert and really come to love this film over time. When it comes round again here in our AK family, perhaps I will be more open to it. I’ll give it another try…

(By the way – did anyone else notice how much like an atomic bomb explosion Watanabe’s stomach x-ray looked? I missed the opening sequence on my second viewing, and had to rewind. As it got to that beginning in the rewind, I thought…oh! I didn’t realize Kurosawa had a picture of the bomb in this! What could that possibly mean?” Then I hit play and it was the stomach x-ray! Hmmm…)

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Vili Maunula

Lawless: You’re right that the movie presents the wake as happening very quickly. I don’t know how seriously to take that timeline though, especially in light of the autopsy.

Lawless, it is an excellent question what we should make of the timeline presented in the film. I tried to read a little about how funeral arrangements work in Japan, but couldn’t find anything concrete online. Unless it is typical for things to move forward so quickly, I find it a little puzzling that the timeline is even mentioned — they could easily have just left out any mention of the time frame.

I wonder though if it’s meant to be implied that the deputy mayor, knowing about the sympathy that Watanabe had from local residents and also remembering the fact that Watanabe was not mentioned in the park opening speech and was not seated up front, is concerned that if things aren’t dealt with swiftly enough, the issue of Watanabe’s death in the park may become problematic for his election campaign. Could the deputy mayor then have had some influence on how quickly funeral arrangements have been dealt with?

Ugetsu: I can’t quite find the link right now, but there was a discussion here a few years ago on the topic of minor characters representing ‘the audience’ in Kurosawa films – as an example, the policemen in High and Low or the Commoner in Rashomon. I do think that its important to recognise that Kurosawa was one of those directors who was always thinking of the audience, not as an abstract mass, but as individuals.

I totally agree. I think that the discussions you are referring to are this and this one (in the latter thread the topic starts from post number 5).

At the end of Ikiru, I feel that we are supposed to identify with the one town hall bureaucrat who remains more committed to change than his colleagues who fall back into their normal ways at the office. The film shows him unable to make a change at the office, but leaves him looking at the playground that Watanabe built. What happens afterwards is, like Fred pointed out earlier, up for us to imagine.

Amnesty: By the way – did anyone else notice how much like an atomic bomb explosion Watanabe’s stomach x-ray looked?

An interesting observation. I don’t quite see it that way, but it reminded me of something that Stephen Prince says in his commentary track for the film. Basically, according to him, stomach cancer in the 1950s was a disease strongly associated with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Prince goes on to say that cancer was identified as a sign of social dysfunction, a symbol of post-modern Japan, and that it was therefore considered something of a “western” disease. I mentioned this a couple of year back in this thread. Another curious thing about the cancer is that, as Coco excellently pointed out a few years ago, it really is the disease of the soul that he is suffering from.

If the x-ray can be interpreted as resembling an atomic bomb explosion, the image really is quite loaded.

Thanks also for your further reflections on the film, Amnesty. Really interesting reading. I don’t remember if I already said so, but I hope that your own contact with cancer is now well behind you.

And no, we won’t boot you out of the club for not enjoying Ikiru as much as most of the rest of us do. 🙂 You are absolutely right that these forums are here for open discussion, and personally I’m always happy to read about viewpoints different from my own, which make me think about things in a new light.

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Fred

Amnesty11

… I have a hard time with his long pathetic stares into space – I think it’s rare that internal terror is communicated by an actor in a way that doesn’t feel untrue.

To me, his non-verbal response is clearly not “untrue”, but just his very personal way of expressing what he never really expresses in words (except to the novelist, if I remember correctly). My own response to being told that I have a malignant disease is different. I am saying “is different”, because I have been through this myself (multiple myeloma, chemo, stem cell transplantation, blablabla). On the other hand, my personal reaction may be tainted by the fact that I am a surgeon. I know that people respond differently and I have no trouble at all accepting Watanabe‘s individual way of dealing with his predicament.

The incidence of solid cancers (including stomach cancer) is known to increase after radiation exposure, although the prevalence of gastric cancer has always been known to be high in Japan, supposely for genetic and dietary reasons. Japan is famous for its gastric cancer screening programs. Although AK has addressed the risks of nuclear disasters more than once, I just cannot see that this would lead to a more clear view of Ikiru.

As interesting as it might be, various approaches of trying to look into Watanabe‘s mind do not really add to my simple interpretation of this film. Surgeons are infamous for their somewhat mechanistic approach. So here’s mine: The exceptional condition Watanabe is thrown into makes him do good deeds. The park is only built due to his commitment. Watanabe does not seem interested in effecting social changes beyond the very local one of the park, probably accepting the fact that he could not achieve anything beyond that. At the wake, some of his co-workers express that they were touched and possibly even infected by his enthusiasm, but we quickly realize that that does not last. Watanabe only fought for one cause. Although we see how much resistance he encountered, he did not give up. And neither did he turn into a cynic!

What does this leave for us? IMHO just one thing: “Act locally” (and yes, I will add, “think globally”.) The film is a social study. We feel sorry for the bureaucrats who cannot see beyond their desk, but we realize that any person can make a difference. Let’s not just speculate and argue — let’s act and make this a better world. Solving just one problem is much superior to talking about all remaining problems which are way too big for us to solve.

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cocoskyavitch

Personally diggin everyone coming away with a slightly different lesson from the film! Fred gives us act local, think global, Ugetsu, seconded by Amnesty Watanabe got to define the meaning of his own life, and that is surely the ultimate triumph for anyone. And I am about the de-mummification-the “be here, now” thang.

I dig it…these different flavors.

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Fred

Coco – I’d easily go along with “be here, now”. A friend just quoted Robert Frost on FB:

Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.

That quote would probably be fully compatible with most of the divergent views voiced in this thread about Ikiru.

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Ugetsu

Fred

As interesting as it might be, various approaches of trying to look into Watanabe’s mind do not really add to my simple interpretation of this film.

Really interesting comments – I don’t think there is anything wrong with a ‘simple’ interpretation of the film, as I think this is pretty much what Kurosawa wanted. I doubt he intended a complex psychological interrogation of the character – from the little I know of Watanabe’s generation, I would have thought his actions and response were psychologically believable, and I think thats all we need to know. What I love about Kurosawa’s films is that they operate on so many levels, and that the ‘simple’ interpretation of any of his films is as satisfying as any attempt to interrogate every scene for deeper meanings.

As an aside, last week I watched Ikiru with a friend, who is half Japanese and a translator by profession (and who had never seen it before!). She said that the subtitled translation in my BFI version (I’m not sure if US versions are different, as they are with Seven Samurai?), was quite good, but generally ‘non-literal’ – i.e. the translator tried to catch the meaning of the conversations while often veering quite far from the exact script. She felt though that the translator hadn’t quite caught how funny Toyo is as a character, with her playfulness and slightly naughty sense of humour.

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lawless

Ugetsu – I believe the BFI and Criterion translations are different, although I couldn’t say how different they are.

As for literal vs. non-literal translations: From what little I know about it — mostly from commentary on translating manga — non-literal translations are near mandatory in order to render the Japanese of films and manga into English that sounds natural and colloquial. That is often why manga scanlations (unauthorized fan translations), especially of mainstream manga, read stiltedly, while authorized translations read more smoothly but more loosely as well. (Most manga translations also go through a process of adaptation as well as translation.)

It’s a big deal in the manga world, with many fans preferring more literal translations because they believe they’re more authentic and closer to the original text. I disagree (as does Matt Thorn, a well-known manga translator) because to me, the point is to arrive at an English text that conveys the meaning of the Japanese text, not the exact words.

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Vili Maunula

I don’t have the BFI edition of Ikiru, but unless I’m mistaken this is a subtitle file for the BFI release, while this is Criterion’s version. Not entirely legal files, of course, but the translations do seem to be quite different. I think BFI’s Ikiru came out in 2003 and Criterion’s in 2004.

I have noticed that often the translations are quite similar, but contain small differences. For instance, in BFI’s recent Ozu releases the subtitles seem to be based on the same source as the earlier Criterion releases — perhaps they are licensed from Criterion or directly from the translator, I don’t know — but contain small improvements that, based on what I have seen, improve the translation considerably.

Like Lawless, I generally prefer translations that convey the intended meaning, and not necessarily the actual words. I actually get to deal with these things almost daily at work. It is quite interesting talking with authors and translators about what can and should be translated, and what not. And what can be said or how something can be said in a target language or culture, and what not. I know of authors who are very popular outside of their home country, with much of their popularity in the other country thanks to a local translator who has basically rewritten everything. Some authors prefer that, while others insist that their original text must be followed more closely. Obviously some translation styles work better with some texts, while other texts require other approaches.

I have a lot of respect for translators. Partly because despite myself being able to speak or read a handful of languages, I would never be able to be a proper translator. My brain just doesn’t work like that.

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Amnesty11

Fred

To me, his non-verbal response is clearly not “untrue”, but just his very personal way of expressing what he never really expresses in words (except to the novelist, if I remember correctly). My own response to being told that I have a malignant disease is different. I am saying “is different”, because I have been through this myself (multiple myeloma, chemo, stem cell transplantation, blablabla). On the other hand, my personal reaction may be tainted by the fact that I am a surgeon. I know that people respond differently and I have no trouble at all accepting Watanabe’s individual way of dealing with his predicament.

First of all, I’m glad you seem to be on the other end of your illness. Hope you are doing OK now. Secondly, I appreciate your wider knowledge of individual reactions to devastating illnesses.

For me, I still see Watanabes’ reaction as a poor choice, acting wise. Again, I am alone in this opinion and I accept that. I remember feeling this about Bill Murry in Lost in Translation: as an actor it’s not enough to show ennui by just being boring.

So Shimura’s choice (or was it Kurosawa’s?) made me not enjoy the message of Ikiru quite so much. I wanted Shimura to not take the easier path as an actor. I think it’s too easy to show the effects of one’s own personal tragedy by just staring off into space filled with sadness, looking pathetic. However, I can’t say that I would know exactly how to direct him to make that seem less false. I’ve loved Shimura in just about everything else – I know he has made great choices in other roles. (Yet, I thought he over acted a bit in Scandal as well, and in many ways his character in that film was reminiscent of Watanabe.)

Vili –

I know of authors who are very popular outside of their home country, with much of their popularity in the other country thanks to a local translator who has basically rewritten everything.

Fascinating! I never thought of that — interesting that some of the authors are totally O.K. with the rewriting. I too would rather read translations that get across the intended meaning instead of the literal meaning. I can imagine that the nuances of Japanese culture and language would almost require the former.

I have always been in awe of translators myself. I studied American Sign Language for three years in training to be a translator for theater. I had the mechanics of the language down pat, but the actual embodiment (no pun intended, because it is the body that speaks in this case!) of the culture was something that eluded me.

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Ugetsu

@Fred, it only sunk in later what you wrote about your illness after I posted… best wishes to you with it, I hope your health has recovered fully.

Amnesty

I have always been in awe of translators myself. I studied American Sign Language for three years in training to be a translator for theater. I had the mechanics of the language down pat, but the actual embodiment (no pun intended, because it is the body that speaks in this case!) of the culture was something that eluded me.

A pet peeve of mine are those people who say things like ‘oh, its stupid for Hollywood to remake foreign movies, they are only for people who can’t read subtitles’. There is always something lost in translation, its almost impossible to translate all the subtle meanings of a spoken phrase. Its only something I’ve appreciated in recent years, but translation is as much art as science, and as Vili points out, the fame of certain writers often owes as much to the translator as the original. Iranians, for example, have long complained that westerners over-rate Omar Khayam due to Edward Fitzgeralds brilliant translations – he is considered a second rank poet by most Iranians. There are numerous other examples. With Japanese literature, I think its true to say that Haruki Murakami’s popularity in the English speaking world owes a lot to his fluent English and ability to influence the translations of his writings. And of course some languages just don’t translate well into others – I’ve rarely read any German writers who don’t sound clunky to my ears when translated into English.

Colloquialisms are particularly hard to translate I think. I’ve often gone to see Mexican and South American films with a Venezuelan friend – she regularly tells me (right through the film), that the subtitles are terrible at picking up the humour of various south and central American dialects. And sometimes its not just a case of a translator not being able to translate every subtlety in the script – I’ve read a few cases where there are accusations of translators deliberately altering the meaning of a film. I recall a few years ago a few Romanians were very upset at the subtitles of the brilliant film ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days‘. It was claimed that the subtitling subtly altered the dynamics of some scenes to make the abortionist in that film seem unequivocably evil, whereas (it was claimed) that in the original Romanian, there was a strong suggestion that he had been manipulated by the pregnant character.

Its instructive to watch the two translated versions of Seven Samurai – its practically like watching two different films – the US Criterion version is much better.

A related question thats always intrigued me is how much Kurosawa was influenced by the qualities of the translated western/Russian literature he used for so many of his films. How much of Throne of Blood or Ran comes from the Japanese translation he read rather than the original?

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cocoskyavitch

Fred, ditto on the sentiments regarding your health issues, and hopes they are past.

This glittering forum of interesting people burbles along without time or space constraints like a river flowing with silver and gold, and I think that hearing something from the realm of physical pain and time and space…I dare say I tend to look away.

Sorry.

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lawless

Returning to this thread a bit late in the game, but I thought it worth mentioning how, while watching again for the commentary, I was struck anew by the set dressing and design, particularly of the scenes at City Hall, and how claustrophic it seemed with the towering piles of paper. One of the things this movie does best is perfectly describe how bureaucracy operates. In that, despite trappings unfamiliar to those of us in the West, such as those pyramicial things with writing on them on the desks and counters, what’s depicted feels universally applicable.

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cocoskyavitch

BTW Fred, Robert Frost’s grandson worked with me on a program about ten years ago…being the inheritor of his grandfather’s estate did not seem to phase him much.

I visited Robert Frost’s grave in Bennington, Vermont in about 1990 when on vacation (stayed at the Waloomsac or “Scoobie-Doo” inn!) some years ago. His grave says, “He had a lover’s quarrel with the world”. So great. If he had never written another word, that would be enough!

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Vili Maunula

That’s a very good observation, Lawless. The mise-en-scene is indeed quite wonderful in Ikiru.

These days that claustrophobic office reminds of an office I worked for a year or so. My primary task there was to index and digitalise old works (mainly plays) that were in danger of being lost. I had piles and piles of plays to go through that year — pretty much what you see in the office in Ikiru — some a hundred or so years old manuscripts. Which isn’t that old of course, but they hadn’t been stored too well, so in some cases the paper was crumbling and had to be treated quite carefully.

I didn’t have one of those pyramid things though!

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Ugetsu

The Onion AV Club is celebrating new year with a nice little article on Ikiru.

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Vili Maunula

Always great to see Kurosawa mentioned in a popular publication! Also nice to see that many people’s reaction to the title of the article is that of course Kurosawa made great films outside of the samurai genre. 🙂

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Rashomon

Edit by Vili: I have moved Rashomon’s question about Ikiru’s filming location to its own thread.

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