In any job, it’s so easy to say no. (Film reviewers know this as well as anyone.) This film is about the importance of saying yes: to life, to adventure, to human need. Ikiru, which means “to live,” is about Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a Tokyo office chief whose stamp of disapproval falls on almost any project, regardless of merit. Gray and unemotional, he’s less a man than a stolid piece of furniture, a bureaucrat who might as well be a bureau. Then he learns he has stomach cancer, and takes stock of all he has left undone. Replaying It’s a Wonderful Life, but in reverse gear, the movie sends him on a journey through Tokyo’s nighttown to demonstrate that, no, his life as husband, father, worker didn’t make a difference. He might as well never have been born. Kurosawa makes Watanabe’s conversion, revival, resurrection as inspiring as it is pure. And Shimura, a superb actor, makes his character a plausible saint, who can find poetry in a simple song, or sitting on a playground swing.
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