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The Asian ApertureIkiru (To Live)
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, May 29, 2011    Share

When most people think of an Akira Kurosawa movie, they think of Seven Samurai or Rashomon. Both movies are jidaigeki or period dramas. However, Kurosawa did make movies with a modern setting. Take Ikiru for instance. A story set in Tokyo about a lonely bureaucrat who does not know that he has stomach cancer and not that long to live. Takashi Shimura plays the aging Kanji Watanabe who has been slaving away as a Section Chief for the past 30-years. Kanji has never had much of a life. In the beginning of Ikiru, Kanji is shown going over a huge pile of papers that he either keeps his approval by stamping or tosses to the side. His life is about to radically change.

Some women are at the counter of Kanji's department and complaining about the smell from the sewer with rank water. The women suggest to drain the sewer and build a park. These women get told from various departments that they are in the wrong department. They get the runaround until one elderly lady can take in no longer and screams her complaint to the Deputy Mayor. To which he replies that he will look into it and doesn't intend to do anything about it.

Kanji Watanabe goes to see a doctor about his stomach pains and the doctor tells him that he has a mild stomach ache that will go away in a few days. Even as Kanji insists to know the truth he gets told the same thing. When he leaves, two doctors are talking and one doctor says that Kanji has less than 6-months to live.

Kanji knows he is dying and that he doesn't have much time left. He wants to tell his son but after overhearing his son talking to the son's wife, he learns that they just want money from Kanji to buy a larger house with. Instead he goes out drinking. He meets a pulp writer in a bar and tells the man that he doesn't have much time to live and that he has $500,00 that he has saved up for 30 long years. Kanji asks the writer to help him spend it and to have a good time. The two hit Tokyo with money to burn.
They go to expensive restaurants, they drink expensive sake, and they watch strippers. While Kanji seems to enjoy everything, his heart really isn't into it. He needs more from life than all that money can buy. He wants to do something good for people.

While walking home from his partying binge, he meets a female co-worker that worked under him at the department. She asks him to stamp her resignation. When Kanji asks her why does she want to quit? She gives the perfect answer, “It is so boring!.”
Kanji befriends her and takes her out to eat, buys clothes for her, and tries to use money to keep her happy. She complains that money doesn't give her the happy life that her new job, making toys for children, gives her. Everytime a child plays with a toy that she helped make, she is happy. Again money is not the means to true happiness.

Kanji has tried to be happy through living it up, splurging on a young girl, and then he realizes that he needs to do something good with his time and not his money. He has been absent from work, which is rare because he never calls in sick. Kanji returns to work and decides to help the women out who complained about the sewer smell. He goes to work everyday until he can get that sewer drained and turned into a playground. It is not easy as Kanji must convince different Section Chiefs from multiple departments to help out. No one wants to. Ultimately the park gets made. For all his hard work and effort, he sets on a swing and softly swings as he watches children playing and smiles. He has found true happiness at last, just before death.

Ikiru is a major film by Kurosawa who deliverers a timeless story of an epic scale. Even though his hero is not a heroic samurai or the CEO of a big corporation, Kurosawa uses an everyday worker. Sometimes it is the common people who do the right thing and feel good about their efforts that are the real heroes. In the end money didn't help but helping other people did.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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