Ikiru

I had to go back to work.  I stopped for a burger on the way home, and then I sat down to watch Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” on Blu-ray.  It is still a great film, although the print that was the source for this disc was scratched.  I thought the movie had some of the quality of a Frank Capra film, with an underdog trying to do something meaningful while facing dark thoughts of death.  The main character, Kanji Watanabe, dies an hour and a half into this two-and-a-half-hour movie.  The remainder of the movie has a Rashomon-like quality, as the other characters are piecing together the truth of what happened at the end of Watanabe’s life.  The first shot is of an x-ray of Watanabe’s stomach, indicating the cancer that would take his life within six months.  I don’t know what the Japanese doctors were doing in not telling him of his terminal condition.  One of the essays that came with the disc indicated that Japanese doctors have not changed much over the decades.  I would say that there was something of “The Iceman Cometh” in this story, as one character attempted to break out of the apathetic and routine life and get something done.  Takashi Shimura plays Watanabe.  I thought he gave us a bit too much of the gloomy facial expression in the first half, but he was a great Kurosawa actor.  I did keep thinking about what Toshiro Mifune must have been doing while this movie was being made.  Toyo Odagiri is the girl in the office.  Watanabe latches onto her for a while, envious of her youth and energy and happiness.  I was surprised that she spoke so bluntly to Watanabe.  It’s rather uncomfortable to think that the future was going to be passed on to people like her.  In one scene, some girls are singing “Happy Birthday” in English, although they sing it over and over.  I thought that once was enough.  The moment did remind me of the time the audience at the Academy Awards sang “Happy Birthday” to Kurosawa.  I thought I also heard “Here Comes Santa Claus” in the scene.  According to IMDB, it might have been “Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boo.”  One powerful moment is the silence of Watanabe feeling lost in his own world being interrupted by loud traffic noises.  Also, his encounters with his son are very sad.  I wondered what happened to the novelist and Toyo.  The image of Watanabe sitting on the swing in the snow was haunting.  I had to think of my own brother and his struggle with cancer for all those years.  This is one of the top Kurosawa movies, and one that I thought about a lot over the years.  Doing a little fact checking, I saw that the girl who played Toyo died in 2006, when she was 76.  The song that Watanabe sings is “Gondola no Uta.”  This is one of the movie classic that people should watch.  I read through a Roger Ebert review of it which pointed out some things to me.  It’s worth seeing once every few years.  When I think of the crappy movies that are going to be in the theatres this weekend, that is especially true.  Some of the people who died on July 7 include Arthur Conan Doyle (1930), Veronica Lake (1973), Dore Schary (1980), and Bill Cullen (1990).  Today is a birthday for Jim Gaffigan (50) and Ringo Starr (76).

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