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Ikiru: The remake

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    Just as an aside…. I know we all have misgivings about the proposed Jim Sheridans remake, but maybe as an aid to discussing the original, how do you all think it could be updated in an appropriate way? Can it be improved upon? Who would be the best actor to play Watanabe?

    I can’t help thinking that in current circumstances, Watanabe will be a mortgage adviser or a securities trader. I haven’t a clue what the equivalent of building a playground will be for one of them….

    I know Tom Hanks has been mentioned as the lead, I think that would be a disaster. I’d like to see someone with a bit of ‘edge’, someone like Ed Harris or Sean Penn.



    This is something that also I have been thinking about, and it is really difficult for me to come up with ways to top or even do justice to Kurosawa’s original without simply copying it.

    I don’t see a reason to change Watanabe’s occupation — our perception of bureaucrats today certainly doesn’t seem to have changed much since the early 50s. Perhaps, instead of a playground you could have him build a school, although a playground remains a more realistic a target.

    I agree that Tom Hanks would be a poor choice with his lack of range. It is actually a tricky part to cast, because you want the character to be almost ghost-like, very inanimate yet with plenty of loaded expressions. Or maybe you don’t, but Shimura does such a fantastic job at it that it is difficult for me to imagine Ikiru any other way.

    For me, Sean Penn would have a little bit too much edge for Watanabe. Ed Harris, though, sounds like a potential pick.

    I think that also Ian McKellen could well do it, even if he starts to be a little bit too old for the part.



    I think your idea that the right actor should be ‘ghost-like’ is a very good observation. I’ve worked in bureaucracies (still do) and thats a good description of the way a certain type of middle aged man can become. They are there, but not really there. Ian McKellen is a really good call. In fact, thinking about it, its really made more for an English style of acting.

    I am really struggling to picture the movie set in America. There is a sense of gloom about it that I feel could only attach itself to a Japanese or northern European setting.

    I hesitate to call something perfect, there is always scope for an artist to build on great works. After all, Kurosawa did it himself with Shakespeare. But I just can’t see it working in a modern context.



    For me, it’s not so much that it couldn’t be done, it’s just that I struggle to find a reason for the remake. There ought to be some new idea, an avenue to explore that would make it an interesting project to pursue. You can of course just copy it, but I feel that there is little point in that.

    Of course, I know that the motivation in Hollywood is often very simple, and comes in tangible little green pieces of paper (which I as a foreigner want to point out to our American friends are actually primarily white in your country). But maybe Sheridan has something in his mind, a way to make it interesting. If that remake is indeed even happening.

    I wonder how last year’s Japanese remake contemporised it. It would be great to get to see it.

    By the way, how about Forest Whittaker as the lead?



    Forrest Whittaker is a great idea. Although Hollywood would then probably go and cast Snoop Dogg as the son….

    It wasn’t until I looked at imdb a few days ago that I realised there had been a Japanese remake. Odd that there is a western actress cast in it. It doesn’t look promising I have to say.

    I do like some of Sheridans films, but I also think he’s quite an unsubtle director, he always takes the crowdpleasing option (with In the Name of the Father he took what I think were unforgiveable liberties with the story to create very conventional court scenes). I hope I’m proven wrong.



    Forrest Whittaker is a great idea. Although Hollywood would then probably go and cast Snoop Dogg as the son….

    Maybe it’s a musical? Ikiru: Songs of the Damned?

    Hey yo, u so fine

    but check it out now

    life’s brief

    u gotta get it ON mama

    b4 the color n shit

    fades off yo kisser

    b4 the booty n shit

    bounce no moa, get it?

    Yeah, check it out —

    4 if u ain’t got no clue

    ’bout 2morro mama

    life’s gone n u no what I mean

    so eye sez —

    u gotta get it ON girl

    fall in LUV girl

    get in ON girl

    girl GIRL girl



    Uhm. Maybe in the future I’ll just leave the rapping to Snoop Dogg and his minions. Let it be my contribution to world peace. 😛

    It wasn’t until I looked at imdb a few days ago that I realised there had been a Japanese remake. Odd that there is a western actress cast in it. It doesn’t look promising I have to say.

    In case you missed it, there was also a High and Low remake, similarly by TV Asahi. Both are available on DVD in Japan, but have no English subtitles. With the yen-euro exchange rate being what it is today, and shipping costs from Japan staying incredibly high, I haven’t ordered. In fact, I still haven’t ordered the new After the Rain DVD either, about which I wrote an article a month ago. The cost simply is too much.

    I hope I’m proven wrong.

    Even if I am not all that negative about the remake, I actually just hope that you won’t be proven at all.



    Prince makes two points in Prince’s commentary on the Criterion Ikiru that, I think, will be something that people remaking the film will need to consider:

    1) Prince notes that the Japanese don’t talk about their mortal illnesses, which is why Kurosawa could pretty much leave out the melodrama from the film. Prince then goes on to say that this would not be possible in a Hollywood setting, as we tend to share these things. I’m not sure if this is necessarily true (or at least I can quite easily imagine a way to write around the “problem”), but it is nevertheless an interesting point.

    2) Somewhat related to the above, Prince also explains that the reason why the doctors lie to Watanabe about his cancer is that in Japan it was all the way up until the early 1980s considered better for the patients to not know that they have an illness that has no cure. It was not only that the doctors reasoned that telling the patients would only hurt them more, but also the patients themselves usually simply didn’t want to know.

    This is very much unlike in the west, where we think that patients need to be as well informed as possible. I therefore suppose that in the remake the doctor will simply tell the patient that he has cancer, that it is very advanced, and that there are treatments.

    Considering the (relatively small) advances that we have made in the past half a century in developing treatments for cancer, will we have the protagonist of a modern-day remake (if it is a modern-day remake) attend chemotherapy and try out other treatments? Refusing them would seem strange, but lingering too much on the treatments would only increase the melodrama. Or will he now have some other incurable disease?

    Also, and unrelated to the Prince comments, will the generational gap between Watanabe and his son be a part of the remake? If yes, will this aspect be able to communicate as much as it does in the original, where it is not simply an age related matter, but also a sign of division between the pre-war and the post-war Japan?



    I should be pleasantly surprised if a remake of Ikiru is anything but

    garbage. Holy cow, we can guarantee it’s crap just by casting Robin

    Williams in the lead! Ha!

    Half the beauty of Ikiru for me is its moment and place in time, and that’s

    a conservative estimate of how important a role environment plays for

    me. A complete revisioning would be required. And, what a fun

    proposition! You could start with a person and work out from there, or with the

    details of the environment and societal position and then work into


    Starting with character (I’m gonna stick with an American concept) ,

    think how some of these cats would work out as potential Watanabes:

    Will Smith, Susan Sarandan, Lily Tomlin, Julie Andrews, Warren

    Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino….it’s hilarious to plop them into

    Watanabe, and see how it feels. I think it would be possible to have

    a woman play the role-it might make the failed parent-child

    relationship all the more poignant (as related to Vili‘s comment above). A woman giving up her personal

    relationships for a lousy career-that might be more topical, too!

    If we start with societal position and environment, it suddenly is so

    tricky. Finding the right level of society, or “place” is delicate,

    because the relative poverty of Ikiru is part of what makes things so

    much more poignant. We don’t have that many communities of people

    living with open sewers in the west. Our poverty looks different. I didn’t

    see “The Pursuit of Happyness” but, it seems to me that the structure

    of that film looks at poverty in the midst of wealth. So, that’s

    where I give up. I cannot see the U.S. today as being very similar to

    Japan in the post-War period, structurally, in numbers or in type.

    So, if we started with environment, then where do we go? Who knows,

    but I’m saying Bollywood would be interesting. I’ve seen open sumps there. I suggest Mira Nair as

    director, and Bombay as setting, and those wonderful dusty offices

    smelling of curry and dirt that still exist all over the place…!

    And, we could have the musical interludes the whole nightclub thing be really crazy! I suggest

    Naseeruddin Shah as Watanabe and Vasundhara Das as the girl.

    Ok. That was just for fun. Seriously, it would amaze me if a remake

    could be any good. After all, take Kurosawa from the film, and, well…

    why bother? Isn’t it exactly Kurosawa’s quirky, stubborn, hard-

    headed, freaking brilliant cinematically, flawed but human way of

    doing things that makes these not just films but art? Hey, I’m

    rooting for success…no schadenfreude sense of pleasure in seeing others fail, but it is the place, the time, the director, the choices that were made that combine to make this bifurcated meditation on meaning in life an existential-humanist masterpiece.



    One problem I’d have with Sheridan is that he never gives the impression of struggling over issues – his films are always heavily weighted towards whomever he seems as the ‘good guys’. I can’t see him being able to deliver the tension the story needs – provided of course by Kurosawa’s own agonising over the issues.

    The more I think of it, the more I like the idea of a female Watanabe (Lets call her Abbie Watts). Probably an advertising exec or a corporate lawyer, who takes on a low paying account for a non-profit… hmm… now it sounds like an episode of Law and Order….

    One reason I’d like a Abbie is that so many movies that tackle philosophic themes seem to assume its only men who wrestle with them, women being too sensible to do this (Kurosawa of course being a bit guilty of this too). So it would be a nice twist. Of course, if it was portrayed as a woman, then Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire mode it would have to be…

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