Movie Project #48: Ikiru [1952]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Ikiru [1952]

Ikiru [1952]
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Country: Japan
Genre: Drama
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Haruo Tanaka, Shinichi Himori, Minoru Chiaki
Running Time: 143 minutes

“How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death.”

What would you do if you knew you had less than a year to live? Life is short enough as it is; putting an exact number on it can be downright frightening.

Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a middle-aged city council worker, has learned just how scary this can be. After being unable to keep his food down, among other issues, he goes to the doctor and learns his prognosis: he has stomach cancer. Worse yet, Watanabe has no idea how to come to terms with his impending death. He is a widow, and his relationship with his adult son is strained at best. It doesn’t help that he has been stuck doing the same meaningless work for the last 30 years of his life. He claims to have sacrificed his social life in order to provide a means for his son, but no matter how you cut it, his life is downright depressing.

Now, faced with the knowledge of having just months to live, what is Watanabe to do?

Ikiru [1952]

He tries to tell his son, but he decides against it when the son doesn’t pay him any attention. Watanabe hits the streets instead, eventually meeting a drunk writer who takes him out for a night on the town. Having his first drinks in perhaps 30 years, Watanabe tries to embrace the nightlife, but his fun is artificial. At one dance club, he requests a song — “Gondola no Uta” (“Life is Brief”) — from the piano player, then proceeds to sing it, bringing the entire audience deep sadness.

After 30 meaningless years, how can Watanabe suddenly start living?

The next day, he runs into a young female who works in the same department as him. She is on her way to put in her resignation, citing the work to be too dull and boring for her. Intrigued by her youthful exuberance, Kanji spends the day with her, spending a portion of his life’s savings on just having a good time. Yet just like his failed attempt at enjoying the party lifestyle, this relationship, too, grows strained.

Eventually, Watanabe finds solace in — what else? — his job. Rather than deliver the same pointless drivel that he had his entire work career, he decides to actually *do* something of importance. His last days see him fighting to turn a waste of land into a useful children’s playground.

Ikiru [1952]

It’s a shame that it took this man so long to put his life to good use, but this message from Ikiru is both depressing and inspirational. Why do so many of us live boring lives that revolve around dead-end jobs while not seeking out the finer points in life? Why do we not attempt to do what we truly love? Life is undoubtedly short; it shouldn’t take a terminal illness to finally give the push many people so desperately need.

In the film’s final act, we are shown Watanabe’s wake, and the reaction of those who knew him. Again, it shows that some of those who thought they knew him for decades actually had no idea who Watanabe really was. Hell, even Watanabe himself had no idea who he was or what he was capable of doing.

I could nitpick about Ikiru and discuss its extended length and slow pacing, but these “faults” are irrelevant. The film’s message is painstakingly beautiful, and it’s one that will linger for weeks. To the right person, this can really hit home, and it has made me personally start to question what some of my own priorities in life are. I have yet to see a bad (or even mediocre) Kurosawa film, but this may be my favorite one yet.

9/10

Movie Project #36: Singin’ in the Rain [1952]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Singin' in the Rain [1952]

Singin’ in the Rain [1952]
Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Genre: Comedy/Musical/Romance
Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds
Runtime: 103 minutes

It has come to the point where I should probably stop saying I don’t like musicals. I have never had much interest in the genre, but the last few I have seen — Moulin Rouge, My Fair Lady, Dancer in the Dark — I enjoyed quite a bit. Now I can add another to this quickly growing list: Singin’ in the Rain.

What can be said about this 1952 classic that hasn’t already? The songs have been immortalized in American pop culture, so much so that I hear the title song during every trip to the local Jewel Osco grocery store (it plays when the produce sprinklers kick on). The film’s influence is massive — The Artist bears more than a striking resemblance — and it has all sorts of accolades to its name: two Oscar nominations, eight mentions in multiple AFI lists, a ranking of #86 overall on IMDB, a rare 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And, to top it all off, it is considered one of the greatest musicals of all time.

Singin' in the Rain [1952]

The film’s story is a simple one. Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, a wildly popular silent film star who has been on a roll lately thanks to his collaborations with leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). With the onset of talking pictures looming, their studio, Monumental Pictures, decides to make the transition. Lockwood and Lamont are up to the task, but there is one small problem: Lamont’s voice is far too grating for “talkies.” At the suggestion of Don’s best friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), the studio decides to dub Lina’s voice with that of Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), Don’s new flame. Naturally, conflicts arise because of this, but this is a light-hearted musical and it doesn’t get into dark territory at all.

Really, this is all about the song-and-dance numbers, and they sure deliver. This was my first Gene Kelly film, and his performance blew me away. Not only is he ridiculously charismatic, but the dude can dance, too. The choreography in this is just insane, and his numbers with Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds ae often mind-boggling. Some of the physical stunts they pull during their routines are beyond impressive. The three of them have natural chemistry, making their complex numbers look effortless. Jean Hagen is also a treat as the stereotypical dumb blonde, and she was rewarded with a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Singin' in the Rain [1952]

My only beef with the film comes from O’Connor. While I appreciated his talents, I found his character to be a little too silly/over-the-top for my liking. I know that many love his big solo routine, Make ‘Em Laugh, but it was just too slapstick for me. Regardless, that is just a small blip on what is otherwise a fantastic musical.

Singin’ in the Rain really is a delight, and it is just one of those rare movies where it’s near impossible to not have a smile on your face for most of its running time. Plus, something must be said if a film has made me second-guess my stance on its genre — maybe there’s something to this, after all?

9/10

 
For more reading on this American classic, I highly recommend these two articles:
Movies That Everyone Should See: “Singin’ in the Rain” from Fogs’ Movie Reviews
What a glorious feeling! Musings on Singin’ in the Rain from FlixChatter

Singin' in the Rain [1952]