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I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time.

Among the many lessons that can be derived from this beautiful, compassionate, and sensitive Kurosawa film of 1952, the sentences above resonate both in post-war Japan and in the world today. No one has the time to hate people.

Ikiru means "to live." And the story traces the end of life for one man, Watanabe-san, who has been diagnosed, but not formally told, that he has stomach cancer. He is introduced to us via an x-ray of his stomach and we are told that he has not lived in the past thirty years, he is dead already.

The story follows Watanabe-san's awakening through a night of drunken revel and a few weeks of dating a young woman from his office. About two-thirds of the way through the movie Watanabe-san dies off-stage and the remainder takes place through flashbacks and at his funeral.

It is at the gathering of office workers at the funeral that we get the other piece of wisdom that has not changed in lo! these many years. "Doing anything but nothing is radical." That was the root of Watanabe-san's radicality, he did something other than the nothing that bureaucracy is erected for.

I've already said more than enough about the film and given away too much perhaps because this is a small and intimate film; little details tell too much. Every moment is fraught with meaning, every line carefully considered, every gesture, every action choreographed to the lustrous end. And yet, fraught as it is, it is never heavy nor depressing. It is at times positively light and playful and at others deeply felt. Particularly poignant is a scene in the park where Watanabe-san swings in the snow and sings a song introduced earlier in the film, only this time quite differently.

Don't trust too much the liner notes that talk about this as a modernist existential film tract. As a professor once told me about Shakespeare: bring to it any ideological system and you can make it light up--feminist, socialist, homosexualist, you name it. I have a feeling the same may be true of this film. For the time, it is remarkably forward thinking in the portrayal of women, hence feminist. And already there are the signs of the "think globally, act locally" cant that runs the rounds in many circles today pretending to be thought.

Our lives would all be immeasurably better if we could remember Watanabe-san's words quoted beneath the header. We might consider them the Japanese equivalent of, "She would have been a good woman if there’d been somebody to shoot her every day of her life." Let's rather choose not to make this our emblem and to take after Watanabe-san--a Silas Marner, an Ebeneezer Scrooge, a Watanabe-san after his own fashion.

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Kurosawa's films never fail to inspire awe or elicit strong emotions. I think I might have to see "Ikiru" again, just to be reminded of how powerful this movie is.

I clicked on your site out of curiosity - my first name is Carmeli and I've been looking all over the 'net to find out what it means. Other than perhaps meaning "of Carmel", I'm gathering that it's of Israeli origin? Or Latin... I've always thought it was Latin or something. I was hoping you would know since your blog carries my name!

(Pardon the intrusion)

Dear Lee,

I've written to you privately in respnse. In addition, I did not point out that Mt. Carmel is in Israel, just north, I think of Haiffa, though I may be wrong in that, I'll have to consult a map. Moreover, it is regarded as the "spiritual home" for all Carmelites.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Ikiru was one of those films that will rest in memory for some time. Whatever else Kurosawa may have been getting out, I come away with the principle that human life is limited, there is no time to hate others.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 31, 2006 11:07 PM.

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