Movie Review: Ikiru (1952)

If you’ve followed me for a somewhat extended period of time, you’d know that I covered several movies by this director last year. Well, now the distributor behind those have another box set out (technically it’s been out since last spring, but I digress), and I’m gonna be covering those movies every now and then. So you know… fun?

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Ikiru”.

After he discovers he has terminal stomach cancer, aging bureaucrat Kanji (Takashi Shimura) begins to reflect both on his past, and on the very meaning of life. The story of “Ikiru” is one that is hard to describe, at least from a personal and emotional standpoint. Objectively, it’s a slowly burning, melancholic, yet still hopeful exploration of what it means to live, a tender and humanist look exploration into a man’s heart heart and soul. But I feel that any words I use to try to explain its effect on me aren’t enough. It broke my heart and put it together again in ways I didn’t think possible. It made me think about my own life, both the good and the bad parts. It’s a tragic and beautifully told tale that reached into my very soul and hit in a way I haven’t experienced in a while.

The characters in this all feel very… human, as if they weren’t just characters, but actual people who were simply being filmed, thanks to the sheer amount of love and nuance that they clearly had been written with. What also adds to this are the performances, none of which feel flashy or theatrical. In particular I want to mention Takashi Shimura, the man who plays our lead character. His performance is just utterly devastating and beautiful. We also get supporting work from people like Nobuo Kaneko, Shin’ichi Himori, Haruo Tanaka, Minoru Chiaki, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

The score for the movie was composed by Fumio Hayasaka, and much like the story and characters before it, it was just beautiful. A gorgeously melancholic, yet hopeful chain of melodies played on strings, brass, and some woodwind. It’s just great. There’s also one song not originally composed for this movie used here, and it’s used to perfection. This movie just has great music.

Partly based on “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” By Leo Tolstoy, “Ikiru” was directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. And he once again proved here what a master he was. Perfectly flowing shots, all lingering for the perfect amount of time, all finding the right way of adding to the emotion of the scene. And the cinematography by Asakazu Nakai is absolutely breathtaking, from framing, to lighting, it all just looks stunning and adds so much to the storytelling on display here. It’s just a terrifically assembled movie.

This movie has been incredibly well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 98% positive rating with a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 91/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 8.3/10 and is ranked #100 on their “Top 250” list.

“Ikiru” affected me in a way that few movies have, it’s a stunningly beautiful exploration of what it means to live. It has a fantastic story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Ikiru” is a 9.95/10. Which means that it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Ikiru” is now completed.

Just… wow.

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ikiru (1952)

  1. Being a fan of Kurosawa since my teens, I saw this in the late 1960s, at the National Film Theatre in London. It’s a great film indeed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Great review. This is my favourite film of all time and I like what you said that characters in the story come across as very much human, that is also the feeling I got from the film when I first watched it.

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