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

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Movie Project #11: The Magnificent Seven [1960]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Magnificent Seven [1960]

The Magnificent Seven [1960]
Directors: John Sturges
Genre: Western/Adventure/Drama
Language: English/Spanish
Country: USA

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai represented many “firsts” for me. It was my first Japanese classic film. My first Kurosawa film. My first three hour epic. The first movie I watched that had an extended intermission halfway through. Seven Samurai turned me onto a whole new world of film, and for that I am very appreciative.

The Magnificent Seven is Hollywood’s westernization of Kurosawa’s masterpiece, and it is one of a seemingly rare breed in that is also highly regarded, though not quite up to the level of its inspiration. Opting to go the Western route, the movie is about seven American gunmen who are hired to protect a small Mexican village from evil bandits. There is plenty of action with several entertaining gunfights, but there is also a good amount of emphasis on character relationships that give the men some depth.

The seven gunmen are played by a veritable who’s who of badasses from the time period — Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn and Horst Buchholz. Brynner is the leader of the group as Chris Adams, the hired mercenary who rounds up the rest of the fellas to fight off the bandits. This was the first movie I had seen Brynner in, and I was very impressed. As Adams, he played a tough, commanding leader who didn’t take shit from anyone. His stage presence is undeniable. Of the rest, McQueen, Bronson and Coburn are most noteworthy. McQueen’s laidback persona oozes with confidence. Bronson shows a gentle side after becoming “adopted” by two Mexican children. Coburn is a quiet, expert knife-thrower who just so happens to be handy with a gun. The leader of the bandits, Calvera, is played by Eli Wallach in an excellent performance. His character felt like a precursor of sorts to what he would eventually take on in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

The Magnificent Seven [1960]

This is a stellar cast, no doubt, and everyone gets their share of screen time. The characters are likable, the action is solid, and the score is unforgettable; the opening theme was later used in Marlboro TV commercials.

I am still fairly new when it comes to Westerns, but there’s no denying the value of The Magnificent Seven. Despite some slow goings at times, I found the movie to be very entertaining overall, mostly due to the cast’s star power. A cut below Seven Samurai, but a worthwhile remake all the same.

8/10