Not rated, but the same thing that happens in the remake happens in this one. He visits a strip joint at one point. While we don't see any nudity, we definitely get his exaggerated expression. The protagonist is also more suicidal in this version of the story, making his drinking a part of the desire to kill himself. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Akira Kurosawa
God really wants me to write about this movie today. I just posted the remake of this film Living the day I write this, so that's gotta be some level of kismet. Not very impressive kismet, mind you. I mean, I only have ten movies in the chamber and that was one of them. Still, I would like to point out that I don't feel like writing whatsoever. I'm going to use that to color my blog about this movie because I did love it. But that's kind of the point of the movie, isn't it? Sometimes, we do things out of love and sometimes we forget why we do things. Also, capitalism is a bear and will destory a person.
I really wanted to have seen Ikiru before I wrote about Living. For the whole breakdown of how I realized that Living was a remake far too late, feel free to read my other blog. Man alive, I love Kurosawa. I don't want to go into which movie I necessarily liked more. I can confidently say that Ikiru is masterfully made and a better movie. I'm more wondering which I'll watch more. I mean, I own them both at this point. I should figure out which one I want to see more. Living is short; way shorter than this. That's such a plus for me in terms of entertainment value and sharing it with others. But Ikiru is simultaneously the same story, yet filled with so much more pathos that I can't help but consider it the superior product. I don't know how Kurosawa added a half-hour to an hour to the original story without hitting any more beats. If anything he hits fewer beats than Living, yet it feels like every minute is swallowed up by story. It mostly comes from the notion that Kurosawa lets us feel scenes to their emotional conclusions.
It's really weird, though, certain elements of the original. Living really rides into the fact that this is a feel good movie. Considering that I like the movie, it handles the feel-goodery pretty well. But Ikiru, as touching as the movie is, ends up still kind of bleak. A lot of that comes from the characterization of Toyo. In Living, the Toyo avatar is forthright with the protagonist. She tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a romantic relationship and Williams never even considers that it would be a relationship. That probably stems out of the notion that the concept that Watanabe seems genuninely lonely compared to Williams. There is a little bit of that notion in the air. But I kind of find it fascinating that both Japanese business culture and British business culture have variations on the same norms. It's still thought that there are creepy old men who would bring shame on their homes, thus needing to have the conversation. But their reactions say a lot about the role of mortality. Miss Harris, the Toyo of Living, actually displays an incredible amount of empathy for the dying Williams. Yet, the actual Toyo harbors no hints of sympathy to a man who is dying. Oddly enough, it kind of disgusts her. She flees when he confesses his true reasons for being around her.
Now, this should be a red flag moment. After all, from Toyo's perspective, the alternative to Watanabe dying is that he's a sad old man who has a crush on a girl half his age. (Oddly enough, since movies like Harold and Maude, my kneejerk reaction to this kind of romance has kind of blunted.) But she didn't want him to be an old man with a crush on a young girl. All of this kind of means that Toyo liked the attention that Watanabe lavished on her, both through gifts and attention, but didn't want any of the follow-through that she clearly expected him to want. But this also ties into the whole notion of hiding the truth from the elderly. I forget the movie right now that was a big deal a could of years ago...The Farewell! This is potentially the biggest jump from the Western adaptation of Living that couldn't translate in England. While Williams also keeps his illness a secret, it's more a matter of feeling like a burden on his family. But in the Japanese version, there's a far darker element.
One of the key parts of the story is that no one tells Watanabe that he actually has stomach cancer. If it wasn't for the gossip that he recieves in the waiting room, Watanabe would be living out the kind of gross (and I'm going to get a little judgey here) lying that happens to the dying. I'm basing so much off of the The Farewell, but apparently it is tradition in a lot of Asian cultures to lie to the dying. I suppose there's something about lacking honor in weakness (man, I'm swinging for the fences here) or the fact that people might not be able to enjoy the end of life knowing that there is death on the horizon. But if that's the case, Ikiru is a movie based on fighting words. It's openly against this attitude. Fundamentally, the message of the story is that it is only when facing our own mortality, that we truly begin life.
I mean, Kurosawa doesn't hide from the despair that comes with facing death. Watanabe faces a dark night of the soul. Like society expects him to, he becomes borderline suicidal with the night at the carnival. But his mentor through death is someone who defines what it means to live. Now, this character is not a perfect character. There's some pretty gross stuff about this guy. Sure, he's a novelist. Gross, right? Just kidding. I envy this man. But the novelist, as progressive as he is about death compared to Japanese culture, is still a dude who views living as something that's for the flesh. He brings Watanabe fleeting joy. It's the joy that Watanabe wants, in a way. The novelist pays for Watanabe's night out, which is odd because I think he's secretly giving Watanabe insight into what it means to be altruistic. But it's because he's --as Arthur Miller would put it --"blowing the guy to a big meal". It's a one off versus a way of life.
I have to view Kurosawa as an optimist. I mean, I just have to. I love his morality movies so much that he has to view the best in humanity. But there's something really depressing about the message of the movie the more you think about it. Watanabe becomes a better person on his death bed. That's cool. The notion that one can't view one's legacy until faced with death is depressing, but human. But it's the next level that kind of bothers me. It's the idea that Watanabe was meant to inspire the next generation of workers to continue what he has started. It's not like Kurosawa is hiding this message. It's straight up part of the dialogue. But these characters are incapable of actually making lasting change. Humanity is almost meant to wait until the final moments to become better people. It's almost this notion of moral procrastination. I would say that there's hope with the youth. There is one man who stands up to the new district chief (or whatever that title is), but he sits back down. If I take that to its logical conclusion, the idea is that he will never have the backbone to be different than the older generation.
But maybe that's why I like Kurosawa! I'm riding this train all the way to the station. I do think that Kurosawa views humanity through rose-colored glasses. But he doesn't make it easy. There's optmistic and then there's saccarine. I wouldn't like it necessarily if Kurosawa claimed it was going to be easy. It takes a man dying to build a tomb for himself, but one that would take care of others. It's a touching story and I completely dig that I've seen both versions now.
William C Guarino
4/3/2023 12:05:10 pm
I agree with your views 100%! Keep up the good work!
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.