Tag Archives: Criterion Collection

“Ikiru” and Leaving a Legacy Behind

Hey, folks.  In preparation for my upcoming trip to Japan, I decided to delve into a work by *the* master of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa.  Particularly, one of my favorite films ever made, “Ikiru”.

As I stated in a previous post, I first really got into foreign films (and more obscure films) once I was able to break the chains of the big box movie rental stores that were in the rural area I grew up in.   These stores often had racks and racks of bland, processed, mass produced films, but never the obscure and interesting movies I was looking for. Once I had gotten Netflix, there was no going back.  The virtual cornucopia of films by the masters of cinema was eye-opening.

One of these masters was and still is Akira Kurosawa.  My first foray into Kurosawa’s work was The Criterion Collection version of “Seven Samurai” (Suichinin no Samurai).  I was impressed by the film, but found it a bit overlong.  The best part of the film was Toshiro Mufune, who remains one of my favorite actors to this day. 

Despite being a tiny bit underwhelmed by “Seven Samurai” (perhaps because I saw the American remake first; movie blasphemy, I know), I went into Kurosawa’s other films and found many of them to be even better.  “Throne of Blood”, “Rashomon”, “Stray Dog”, and “Ran” are all excellent, beautifully shot films and further cement Kurosawa’s place in cinematic history.

However, the film that firmly placed Kurosawa at the top of my list of favorite directors was “Ikiru”.  “Ikiru” isn’t as well known as “Rashomon”, “Seven Samurai”, or even “The Hidden Fortress” (which was an inspiration to “Star Wars”), but it is more touching on an emotional level.  Well, at least it was for me.

“Ikiru” (translated as “to live” in English) is about a man who works at an office job, emotionless and without passion.  He has a strained relationship with his son that haunts him and a wife who is no longer there.  These regrets paralyze him, preventing him from living life to the fullest. At a routine doctor’s visit, he finds out that he has cancer and a limited time to live.  He then decides he has to do something about it.

The most noticeable thing about “Ikiru” is not its brain, but its heart.  The film has so much to say about the human condition in the span of its running time.  Just like all great works of art, it makes you look at your life in a different manner.  The emotions are not only conveyed in the actions of the characters, but through the use of sound and vision, just as film should be. 

Witness this swing scene.  So spare and minimalistic, but so much emotion conveyed in the span of a little over a minute of screen time:

“Ikiru” inspired me as a high school student to do something good and infused in me an energy to go study biology in college to help others.  I now work in public health, but still have a passion for art and its impact on others.  This film is a reminder of that power, the power of emotion in telling a story and connecting to the public.  “Ikiru” also makes one treasure the time they have on this Earth and the importance of grasping opportunities and caring for others.

“Ikiru” is a rare film–along with “Wild Strawberries”, another masterwork–that can alter the trajectory of one’s life.  It is that good.


Yes, it’s true.  John Donovan will be in Japan for some time.  He is also a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa and talking in the third person.  John can be reached at his Twitter @jododojo10 or his new Tumblr blog New Wave of the Future (newwaveofthefuture.tumblr.com).


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