Ikiru is director Akira Kurosawa's spiritual and life-affirming masterpiece and is one of the most powerful films in the world. Ikiru tells the simple story of a man who knows he is going to die, and yet he finally sees the importance he can bring to himself and other people. Ikiru in Japanese means "To Live" and that's exactly what this film is about. Takashi Shimura who plays this frail defeated old man has played in several of Kurosawa's films, most famously as the fearless leader of the seven warriors in his classic epic The Seven Samurai. In Ikiru he plays the exact opposite, an everyman bureaucrat who has lived a life by not really living. He is nicknamed "the Mummy" at work because his character is lifeless, just drifting through life and not really experiencing it. When discovering that he has less then six months to live, he descents into a form of despair and defeat, which will lead him through a series of stages, before arriving to the realization of his own importance which will involve the overcoming of the inertia of bureaucracy, to help the less fortunate.
When director Akira Kurosawa was asked where he came up with the idea of Ikiru he responded: "Sometimes I think of my death. I think of ceasing to be...and it is from these thoughts that Ikiru came." Ikiru for me will always be my personal favorite out of Kurosawa's films because I can relate to it in many different ways. Every time I see this film again I'm a little older, more wiser and the motivations of Watanabe are much more understandable. In one of the greatest scenes of Ikiru Watanabe asks a complete stranger to help him spend his money on 'having a good time', because he doesn't know how to spend it. The stranger takes him out on the town, to gambling parlors, dance halls and the red light district, and finally to a bar where the piano player calls for requests and Watanabe, still wearing his overcoat and hat, asks for the song 'Life Is Short Fall in Love, Dear Maiden.' The piano man says, "Oh, yeah, one of those old '20s songs," but when he plays it, Watanabe starts to softly sing to the song, barely moving his lips, and suddenly the bar becomes silent. For just a brief moment, these young drunken men and women are drawn into a deep existential contemplation on just how short and precious their lives really are.