Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Japan, To Live, 1952)

DIRECTED by Akira Kurosawa
PRODUCED by Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni & Akira Kurosawa
SCREENPLAY by Sojiro Motoki
ORIGINAL MUSIC by Fumio Hayasaka

Kurosawa and Kubrick present a big problem to someone like me putting together a Top 25 list. You can’t put all their films on the list. It’s probably best to limit yourself to one movie per director (and I couldn’t, with Kubrick). So, which one? Ran? Rashomon? Stray Dog? The Seven Samurai? Kagemusha?

I’m going with Ikiru. I doubt you’ve ever seen it, unless you’re as rabid a Kurosawa fan as I am. It made something of a splash when it debuted in America, way back when. It is available on video. I strongly urge you to seek it out and rent it.

The great Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a bureaucrat in post-war Japan. (To show you the guy’s range, in Shichinin no samurai he plays the part Yul Brynner took in The Magnificent Seven.) He does literally nothing but shuffle papers. He is just barely alive. Then he learns he really is dying. He has cancer, less than a year to live.

He goes on a bender. He curses his fate. Then he decides to accomplish one thing, just one thing before he dies. A group of mothers approaches him after having been shuffled through the bureaucracy, trying to get a dangerous garbage dump cleaned up in the neighborhood where their children play. He decides to help them.

Cut to his funeral.

Whoa! This is about as startling as Janet Leigh dying in Psycho (which would have been on this list, except for the dreadful last 10 minutes). His co-workers gather to get drunk and reminisce. Nobody really knew him; none of them really know each other. Their lives are as empty as his was. Then people begin to drop in. A neighborhood cop. The women. They are devastated. Kanji was a miracle worker to them. The story of his last days comes out in flashbacks, and the last scene will linger in my mind forever.