A to Z of Films Meme (I)

Who am I? What do I stand for? 



When I start­ed this meme, I did not need to think which film for ‘I’, but rather, the oth­er way around – that Ikiru already fills the ‘I’ slot. That sums up my love and respect for this pro­found, qui­et, and the most per­son­al film by the giant Kuro­sawa. It is a deeply inspir­ing film every time you remem­ber it lat­er.Ikiru

Ikiru (‘to live’), is about the life and death of an ordi­nary bureau­crat, who dis­cov­ers at the begin­ning of the film that he has less than a year to live, since he is dying of can­cer. Watan­abe has spent 30 years of his mean­ing­less exis­tence stamp­ing papers at a desk. When he dis­cov­ers he has only a few months to live, he is in despair and finds him­self estranged from his fam­i­ly. He also real­izes that he has led a mean­ing­less exis­tence all his life. The nar­ra­tor tells us that death won’t be such a big change, since he has most­ly lived like a corpse his entire life. What fol­lows is incred­i­ble and extreme­ly mov­ing.

Watan­abe has been com­pared with Sartre’s Roquent, Camus’ ‘for­eign­er’, Kafka’s Gre­gor, and Dostoevsky’s Prince Myushkin, but I know only Watan­abe, the rest are all strangers! 🙂

The first scene is a close up of an x-ray. We are thus shown Watanabe’s inside, before we see his out­side. The can­cer defines the char­ac­ter. In the first half of the film, we are shown his body and actions, his phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion. At the mid­point, Watan­abe dies. In the remain­ing half, the body has dis­ap­peared, and through the con­ver­sa­tions of oth­ers, we are shown what remains of Watan­abe – his soul. I have not seen such struc­tur­al inge­nu­ity in any oth­er film.

After a series of despair­ing­ly hedo­nis­tic flings, Watan­abe real­izes that he needs to do some­thing worth­while if he is to give some mean­ing to his life. Is he suc­cess­ful? Watch the deeply mov­ing clos­ing scene, and you’ll know.

No one oth­er than Takashi Shimu­ra, a Kuro­sawa vet­er­an, could have played Watan­abe. Shimu­ra has the uncan­ny abil­i­ty of per­son­i­fy­ing char­ac­ters who do not per­son­i­fy any­thing.

Greater lessons can be learnt in the lat­ter half: how one man’s actions can con­fuse, inspire, or frus­trate oth­ers. Our empa­thy with Watan­abe increas­es because we are not sim­ply shown what he does, rather we find our­selves root­ing for him, cham­pi­oning for him, in the cyn­i­cism and gos­sip of oth­ers. One inter­pre­ta­tion is that what ulti­mate­ly mat­ters regard­ing the mean­ing of one’s life is what one decides for him­self. What oth­ers think about it is mean­ing­less and futile.

There are many sequences of poignant film-mak­ing at its best. In a heart-rend­ing scene, Watan­abe goes home and cries him­self to sleep under his blan­ket, while the cam­era pans up to show us a com­men­da­tion he received after 25 years of ser­vice. The scene at the bar, when amidst the drunk­en, ram­bunc­tious rev­el­ry, Watan­abe slow­ly starts to sing, and the entire bar becomes silent. The long shot of his stub­born, sub­mis­sive­ly bowed head, unyield­ing, in the office of pen­cil push­ers. And the clos­ing shots – one of the great­est in cin­e­ma.

Immortal BelovedRunner Up

Ikiru stands so high above every oth­er ‘I’ movie I have seen, that there is no run­ner up.

Noteworthy Mentions

  • Immor­tal Beloved, a roman­tic fan­ta­sy of the search of Beethoven’s unknown lover that is dis­turbing­ly and pas­sion­ate­ly evoca­tive, like Beethoven’s music. A must-see if you are a clas­si­cal music buff. A mem­o­rable scene is that of Beethoven as a boy run­ning into the for­est and float­ing on a lake. He appears afloat in the star­ry sky reflect­ed in the water, while the ‘Ode To Joy’ from the Ninth plays in the back­ground.
  • Il Posti­no, a charm­ing, qui­et, emo­tion­al­ly ful­fill­ing movie, with a bit of every­thing.
  • Ijaazat, Gulzar’s sen­si­tive dra­ma about an estranged cou­ple with excel­lent per­for­mances and an unfor­get­table sound­track.
  • Inter­mez­zo, Ingrid Bergman’s Amer­i­can debut, a roman­tic tri­an­gle with beau­ti­ful cin­e­matog­ra­phy and mag­nif­i­cent music.

Yet To Watch

It’s A Won­der­ful Life, Frank Capra’s acclaimed mas­ter­piece, which would prob­a­bly have fig­ured some­where above had I seen it! 🙁

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  • Mahen­dra

    Same com­ment as I made on H. Not seen any one of these. My unequiv­o­cal choice was, of course, In The Name Of The Father.

  • Hmm…haven’t seen In the Name of the Father! (Added)

    If it inter­ests you, Michael Rad­ford, who made ‘Il Posti­no’, was born in New Del­hi, India, to British and Aus­tri­an par­ents.

  • Dot­tie

    Iku­ru has been on my list for ever.

  • Dev

    Excel­lent write up on Iku­ru!
    Some­how, I did­nt like Ijaazat except the songs..I think Gulzar does won­ders as a writer alone, but when he also directs, he goes too abstract/slow some­times…
    Although I absolute­ly loved his Angoor which was also direct­ed by him.

  • must see iku­ru
    am amazed by kuru­sawas ded­i­ca­tion
    saw his shinchin and rash­mon

    had seen ijaazat when i was a kid

    keep them com­ing !

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