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Critics reviews
Ikiru
Akira Kurosawa Japan, 1952
It’s a thinly veiled religious parable, where Watanabe’s martyrdom isn’t exactly made noble, but certainly commended, as he circumnavigates the social noise of booze and women to find a meaningful, altruistic end. As such, Ikiru wows for its complicated interrogation (and innovation) of subjective, cinematic experiences of time and memory, but lulls in its commemoration of a wealthy, privileged man who finally decides to care after it’s absolutely confirmed he has no time left to live.
November 29, 2015
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Ikiru, in short, may have looked a bit broader and more didactic than I remembered when I watched it again, a far cry from the subtlety and self-containment that are to me the graces of Japan. But somehow it still touches on a world that grows deeper within me every autumn, even as its themes and props surround me.
November 25, 2015
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There’s something a little too sweet about the final shot of the film, it almost dilutes the whole mood of the last hour. That is until you begin to imagine what takes place immediately after with a soft thud or a terrible wail, we don’t find out.
May 14, 2010
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After I watched Ikiru, I couldn’t sleep. Literally could not sleep. The film wrecked me. Wrecked me good. The next day I sought intellectual sanctuary from the overwhelming emotional damage I was experiencing. But the excellent historical and analytical commentary in the Criterion special features was no help. I was depressed. The film depressed me. For a number of days. And here’s the thing. What depressed me was the hope in it. So faint, so fragile, so dignified…so sad.
March 23, 2010
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The film’s iconic image—of Watanabe on the swing—is just so awesome and beautiful that, years later when you think back on the film, you will almost forget that this is one of the saddest movies ever made.
March 23, 2010
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…And then there’s Ikiru (1952), [Kurosawa’s] grand existentialist weepie, with earnest-ugly favorite Takashi Shimura playing a sick bureaucrat who wants a reason to live before dying. Were it the only film Kurosawa ever made, his name would be rightfully engraved on film history.
January 05, 2010
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IKIRU’s masterstroke is the severing of this narrative at the midpoint of the film, beyond which the tale is told by Watanabe’s drunk, bickering, eulogizing co-workers; and it is here that Kurosawa does Sartre one better, by suggesting that death is not the end of a man’s possibilities, but that those possibilities can continue to refract and extend themselves in the social actions and interactions of others.
February 22, 2008
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One of the fine things about Ikiru is that, like other great films, it is a moral document and part of its greatness lies in the various ways in which it may be interpreted. Here, as in the novels of Dostoevsky, we see layer after layer peeled away until man stands alone––though what the layers mean and what the standing man means may vary with the interpretation.
January 05, 2004
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Could a 50-year-old Japanese film about a dying codger be the best film playing in New York this month? Nobody wants to sound like a bring-back-the-Thalia old fart, but Akira Kurosawa’s wise, observant anti-spectacular Ikiru (1952) is certainly one of the season’s few unqualified sublimities… Often heavy-handed but never less than heartfelt, Ikiru (“To Live”) is universal in its thrust and startlingly astute in its narrative engineering.
January 01, 2003
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Along with the various uses of time and perspective in the narrative, Ikiru displays all the other hallmarks that make Kurosawa such an important and influential filmmaker. The framing, shot composition and editing techniques all beautifully work together to bring out the story the most dazzling of these being the sequence reminiscing about his son.
April 01, 2001
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The deliberate pacing elicits a sense that the story is occurring in real-time. Kanji Watanabe never tells his story: his thoughts, his emotions – his life – unfolds before us peripherally. Nevertheless, we see life, with all its hope and misery, through his languid eyes. Ikiru is the story of humanity, the tragedy of an unremarkable life, the compassionate waking of a world in oblivious slumber.
January 01, 1999
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It avoids all the maudlin cliches and blind alleys of examining the “meaning of life,” giving us instead a rare portrait of a man experiencing a genuine insight into what his wasted years have been leading to.
January 01, 1975
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Moullet coolly describes [it] as the ultimate in absurdity, while I find it the most beautiful, most accomplished and most moving Japanese film that it has ever been my lot to see, at any rate among the productions of the modern cycle.
March 01, 1957
The director’s misanthropy goes to such extremes that it quickly turns against him. As for the ending with the swing, confronted by such a piece of idiocy and affectation the audience is left speechless. The real Japanese cinema is elsewhere.
February 01, 1957