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Ikiru: A Painting

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    Vili Maunula

    [I’m trying to catch up with the film club and post some Ikiru related topics today before I move onto Madadayo, which is where the film club now officially is.]

    Here’s an observation about Ikiru that I don’t quite know what to do with, but considered interesting enough to throw out there for your reactions.

    In Ikiru, there is a painting hanging on the wall in the scene where Watanabe is waiting to be called by the doctor (about 00:15:20).

    Painting in Ikiru

    Sorry about the poor picture quality, but as I can’t make Region 1 captures this is from a low-quality Chinese print. On the other hand, the image is not much clearer when watched from Criterion’s disc, at least not on my TV.

    Although not much can be seen about the painting, from what I can make of it, the style does somewhat resemble Kurosawa’s later paintings. Could this be one of his?

    Alternatively, could it be a replica of some more famous painting? Coco, put on your art historian’s hat and let us know if you can think of anything! For some reason, I thought of William Blake here, but the painting really is too much in the background to say anything conclusive with my knowledge of art history.

    In any case, it is just somehow very interesting to me that there is a painting in a scene that precedes Watanabe’s finding out about his illness. There aren’t many paintings in Kurosawa’s films (I don’t think?), so somehow this sticks out.

    For me it seems like a gloomy painting, but with bright spot at the centre. It makes me think of Watanabe’s condition: his world is all gloomy and grey, but that tumour inside of him energises him, makes him seek a meaning for his existence, lights up his life. In his case, it is the chaos and turmoil inside of him that makes him taste life.

    Any other thoughts? I know that this is reading quite much into a small blurry capture, but as I said the painting just seems to stick out so well, hanging there, even leaning forward as if “looking” directly at Watanabe.

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    Ugetsu

    A painted rendition of the stomach x-ray? I wouldn’t put that bit of black humour past Kurosawa…

    But I have to say, very well spotted, Vili. The way the picture is angled, it has to be deliberate, it must have some meaning.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Isn’t it strange, Vili, that in the hospital scene, the “patient” talking to the character Watanabe is played by the actor Watanabe? I wonder if it gave the actor Watanabe creeps that a “Mr. Watanabe” character was dying of cancer? It’s ironic that he is the one to tip off our hero, and to give him a list of symptoms that mean death.

    I just watched that scene last night, and thought of the condition of the hospital, of the less-than-clean-looking walls (it reminds me of a hospital in Naples near the central train station). The painting would probably be a reproduction on cardboard dontcha think? Considering when this film was made, and the reality of that broken society rebuilding/reinventing itself, I would guess that’s the case, and it could be one of those Fragonard frothy things-something like “The Swing” …it’s impossible to say without any detail, but the national museum of Western Art in Tokyo does have a Fragonard and a Nattier and a Largilliere-all Rococco artists, French (and the Japanese seem to like French painting. I think it is fair to make this judgement, since on any given day you are likely to see a crowd of Japanese artists in Montmartre at their easels…Impressionism and Post-Impressionism seem to have taken their fancy). None of the works by those artists in the Tokyo museum have quite the composition of dark distance, central diagonal light and foreground of middle grey value, but Rococco would be appropriate for hospital because of a tendency toward light themes, cheerful themes, and lovely and delicate renditions of nature.

    The question of the painting is an interesting one on many levels. Your finding a connection between the symbolism of light distribution in the painting, and Watanabe’s knowledge of his impending death causing him to search for meaning as another kind of light is fascinating.

    I’m also interested in a purely sociological way to know what kind of “typical” painting would embelish a Japanese hospital in that moment in time. It has always been fascinating to me that Japanese seem to have particular icons of Western culture that intrigue them. There is almost a religion around van Gogh, for example. I keep going back to the idea that Mizoguchi cried on his first trip to Paris, on seeing a real van Gogh painting face-to-face, and the fact of the most costly van Goghs being sold to Japanese collectors in recent sales. And, of course,t here is Kurosawa’s van Gogh sequence in Dreams. And, there does not seem to be any self-consciousness about this devotion to the artist, nor any tongue-in-cheek modernist aesthetic that both makes fun of a thing while admiring it. In fact, somebody like Takashi Murakami is probably a lot more popular in the West than in Japan. Westerners tend to be a little ironic and distanced in relation to their art…anyway, in the modernist aesthetic.

    If anyone can get a better pic of the framed image, it would sure help us sort things out!!! I would be much obliged, and really interested to learn the identity of the mystery image.

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco, that is certainly an interesting point about Watanabe talking to Watanabe, and also something that I had not realised. My skills of recognizing actors from film to film are actually not very good — I struggle even with many prominent Hollywood actors.

    Thanks also for all the information about Japanese tastes in painting. It sounds more than plausible that it is a Rococo work, although what I (assume I) can make of the brush strokes rather made me think of Post-Impressionism. But that may well be also because of the strong connection between Kurosawa and Van Gogh.

    Unfortunately, my equipment is not good enough for producing a better screenshot. Perhaps we should ring the guys at Criterion for help!

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, good eye!!!!

    There’s a family relationship in approach to color and touch between the great French Rococco artists and the Impressionists. The feathery brushwork that begins in Rococco comes round to full expression during the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist periods.

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