Sunday, June 20, 2010

Put it in your queue: Kurosawa's Ikiru

I never went to film school, and when I started writing screenplays I never even watched anything that was made before my lifetime, so I started with a pretty weak education in film. What's beautiful about that is how I've been able to learn over the past decade things others learned in a classroom setting.

That's why, until about two years ago, I didn't even know who Kurosawa was.

I heard of Rashomon because in high school one of my classmates was in a band called Rashomon. No idea what it meant, just that they had a following. One day that film came on TCM and I decided to watch it to see what the fuss was all about.

Holy crap. Sometimes I hate to admit to liking something everybody else likes, but in this case, I was entranced. I was drawn into the story in a major way, and even though this was an old film and used techniques we now see all the time, I could see the story for what it was, and it was brilliant.

At that point I set out to see everything the man ever made. It helped that Mystery Man always went on about Kurosawa's brilliance. That dude really loved himself some Kurosawa.

Anyway, this was all to say that my favorite work of his is actually Ikiru. It's not an action film at all, but a small story about a bureaucrat who's had enough and sets out to do one great deed before he dies. The film could easily be a play; it's mostly dialogue between a few people in rooms. Very few exteriors, very little action, but powerful as hell. I defy you go watch that film and not get a little teary over one man's ability to make a difference. It's an amazing film.

I love Seven Samurai, of course, but Kurosawa's greatest strength was never in the action scenes. It was always in the characters, which is why even his action films were so strong. This film is half character sketch, which plays to the man's best talents. So if you haven't seen Ikiru, I urge you to give it a shot.


  1. Anonymous9:40 PM

    I think Ikiru is actually one of Ebert's favorite films, if I'm not mistaken. Haven't seen it, but am pretty crazy about Ran. As an English teacher, you'd like it, since it's heavily influenced by King Lear.

  2. Love this movie, I was actually the one who mentioned it to MM, he hadn't seen it yet (we were talking about Kurosawa's Seven Samurai) ... it's a really great film.

  3. 7 Samurai was the only Kurosawa movie I saw. but if you liked IKIRU, ok, I will put it on my Netflix queue

  4. Anonymous9:48 AM

    7 Samurai and Ikiru, two of my fav.
    Actually I'm watching this over this weekend.

    Awesome post Emily.

    I was told to visit your blog by a screenwriter in London.

    Impressive indeed!
    Above the rest!

  5. Anonymous12:41 PM

    I love your blog, Emily, but never say Kurosawa's greatest strength "wasn't action scenes" in a meeting with directors. Kurosawa INVENTED action scenes. Multi-camera shooting, slow motion, whip pans, telephoto -- our entire action vocabulary is precisely from what Kurosawa invented.

  6. I never said Kurusawa didn't do action scenes well, but my point is that he was more concerned with the development of character than he was with whether or not the swordplay was accurate. He had great action scenes, but his greatest strength was storytelling.

  7. Ikiru will shatter you... but, y'know, in that good way.

    During my initial viewing a few years back, I almost had to turn it off a number of times. I just couldn't bear to face MORTALITY in such a stark, bold way. And yet it is so moving, so drenched in the joy and sadness and the fleeting nature of life....

    One of the few times the medium has been utilized to capture, perfectly, what it is to be human.


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