Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Ikiru (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Ikiru (1952, Jp.) (aka To Live)

In Akira Kurosawa's humanistic, existential, and poignant drama about a terminally-ill man - divided into two distinct parts: the first of the man's wasted life, and second as a series of non-chronological flashbacks and memories at the protagonist's funeral-wake service:

  • the character of unemotional, rather dull, longtime petty bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a widower with an estranged and greedy son Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko), and working as a disagreeable and spirit-lacking Tokyo City Hall office chief and civil servant in the same monotonous, rubber-stamping job for decades
  • Watanabe's learning of his imminent death within a year from stomach-gastric cancer (seen in the opening shot of his X-Ray) - and his devastated, head-down depressed reaction as he left the hospital after his diagnosis, when he was nearly killed by a truck with a blaring horn
  • the news of the impending end of his life - causing him to reevaluate in his few remaining months what his life had meant ("I don't know what I've been doing with my life all these years"); he began a search for meaning, first taking a leave of absence, drinking, frequenting hooch, striptease and pachinko gambling parlors and other dark locales of the underworld of Tokyo nightlife - guided by a dead-beat novelist who was self-described as Mephistopheles (Yunosuke Ito)
  • Watanabe's brief dating of cheerful and exuberant younger employee Toyo Odagiri (Miki Odagiri) who inspired him to make a mark with his life and make something, and also urged him to quit his job - he told her: "You're so full of life. And me, I'm jealous of that. If I could be like you for just one day before I died. I won't be able to die unless I can do that. I want to do something. Only you can show me. I don't know what to do. I don't know how. Maybe you don't know either, but, please, if you can show me how to be like you!"
  • the sequence of his uncharacteristic generous, worthwhile and socially-motivated decision to support a city project to transform a garbage dump-sewer area in the slum district into a playground and park for children - his final triumph
  • twice, Watanabe's symbolic singing of "Gondola no Uta" - a 1915 dirge song with lyrics ("Fall in love, dear maiden, While your lips are still red, And before you are cold, For there will be no tomorrow. Life is so short, Fall in love, dear maiden, While your hair is still black, And before your heart withers, For today will not come again"); the first instance was in a Tokyo nightclub (onlookers were stilled but felt he was destroying the mood), and in the second instance he was rocking slowly back and forth on a swing in his newly-constructed park during a light snowfall (it also served as flashback of a policeman who had found his body)
  • in the second part of the film after Watanabe's death, the reactions and cynical, judgmental and gossipy comments from his shallow bureaucratic co-workers (freely drinking sake at the wake) to his passionate, socially-productive act, with some exhibiting contempt, conjecture, inspiration, credit-claiming, jealousy, suspicion, confusion, and frustration over the park project
  • the character of Kimura (Shinichi Himori), the only civil servant at the wake who seemed truly inspired by Watanabe’s example, but was afterwards quickly stifled and sternly repressed at the office for acting out of place; in the film's final ambiguous frames, it was unclear whether Kimura's newfound convictions would be realized

X-Ray Diagnosis of Terminal Stomach Cancer

Watanabe's Depressed Reaction - Distracted and Almost Run Over

At His Job: "Busy, always so very busy...Is this really what life is all about?"

Watanabe To Toyo: "Before I die, I want to live just one day like you do"

At Watanabe's Wake

On a Swing in the Newly-Constructed Park


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