Akira Kurosawa is one of my favourite film directors. I both love and admire his films very much. I have several favourites from amongst his work, but it is Ikiru(which translates as Living) that has ended up becoming my all time favourite Kurosawa film. Ikiru is a film that really impacts the viewer on an emotional and spiritual level.This film makes me stop and think about life every time I watch it. It’s one of the most moving and truthful films I’ve ever seen. I like how it tackles mortality head on and makes us feel like we are the character who is coming to terms with his impending death.

Ikiru marked the first time that Akira Kurosawa collaborated with his frequent screenwriter Hideo Oguni, and the two co-wrote the film together, along with another regular writing collaborator Shinobu Hashimoto. The film was made at Tohu studios and premiered on the 9th of October, 1952. The film would go on to win several awards, including a Special Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Ikiru 1

The famous swing scene. Image source IMDb.

The film may sound depressing but it is actually anything but. The message of Ikiru is to value life and the time you have on earth. The film helps you realise that we should all stop and take in what is around us(the sky, the animals, the flowers etc), work is certainly necessary to pay the bills, but there is so much more to life than your job.Treasure life with all your heart and try to do things that bring you joy. There will come a time when one day you will no longer be here to appreciate life. Are you afraid that no one will remember you after you have left this earth? Then do something positive to help others while you’re living, that will make sure that your name and deeds are remembered after death.

Takashi Shimura gives a performance that really moves me, he makes you feel his characters pain, anguish, and also his eventual peace with his tragic and frightening situation. Takashi is one of the most expressive actors in film history and I think that his performance here should be used in an acting masterclass. Every look and every expression he gives speaks volumes as we see the loneliness, pain, joy and fear of this man. This is Takashi’s finest hour on screen in my opinion.

Ikiru 2

Takashi Shimura. Image source IMDb.

Kanji Watanabe(Takashi Shimura)is an office worker whose greatest pride in life is his work and his good work record. He begins to suffer from terrible stomach pains and is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This news really hits him and he is adrift in life. Watanabe’s work no longer brings him any joy, and he is desperate to find out the secret to enjoying life, he will learn that there is no such secret. He begs a young office worker(Miki Odagiri)to help him understand how to live, she is frightened by him and doesn’t understand what is driving him.

Watanabe doesn’t realise until later that enjoying life doesn’t mean laughing and going out partying; it can simply be nothing more than appreciating a sunset or sunrise, admiring the beauty of flowers, sitting and watching what’s going on around you etc.Life is the very world around us, the air we breathe, the snow, the rain etc. He also learns that he can leave something in this world that says he was here, he sets out to build a park for the local children. In one of the most iconic images in film history we see Watanabe sitting quietly on a swing as the snow falls around him, he is sitting quietly just enjoying the moment.

My favourite scenes are the following. Watanabe singing the song with tears in his eyes. When he discovers(before the doctors can tell him)that he is suffering from cancer, the fear and realisation in his eyes really gets to me. All the scenes between Watanabe and the young office girl. The ending showing the park being used as intended.


Watanabe finds some joy. Screenshot by me.

Ikiru is one of the most moving films there has ever been. This film is so real and you feel Watanabe’s pain. His emotional journey and pain doesn’t even seem like a film plot, both things seem like real experiences that has been captured on film.

Takashi Shimura’s performance here is his very best in my opinion. He really was a one of a kind actor; his face is a kaleidoscope of emotion, and he really lets you see and share his characters grief, fear, and happiness. He makes me want to reach through the screen and hug his character. 

This story should be one that anyone from any country and background can enjoy, as the story is one that is so universal. This film is a human story and makes you realise how precious life is. 

Any other fans? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.

8 thoughts on “Ikiru(1952)

  1. Paul S

    It’s difficult to comment on such a beautiful review because you’ve already said everything that there is to be said. I really need to see Ikuru again. I’ve suffered, but I’ve learnt to embrace the absurdity of life, even if I am constantly bemused by the outside world as I struggle to find meaning. This film helps. It should be essential viewing for all human beings!

    Liked by 1 person


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