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Ikiru – Taking Control of Your Life


Film is one of the most common modern art forms as well as one of the most appreciated in modern society.  Even before films came about plays and dramas had been some of the most popular artistic forms in most all cultures.  Hollywood films are made mainly for entertainment purposes, and to turn a profit.  However many of the best films are made not with the purpose of entertainment but with the goal of conveying a message or developing emotion from the viewer.  One of the most famous and influential filmmakers is Akira Kurosawa, a Japanese artist who had a 57 year long career with over 30 films.  His influence is felt around the cinema world having influences on other filmmakers such as George Lucas, who received a huge inspiration from Kurosawa’s Hidden Temple for his new film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  One of his lesser known films is called Ikiru, which translates from Japanese to “To Live”.  The film Ikiru is inspired by Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich and follows Kanji Watanabe, a bureaucrat from Tokyo, as he is recently diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and his journey to find substance in his life.

The beginning of the film opens showing Watanabe working in the same, boring bureaucratic job he had been in for over 30 years.  His only family is his son and daughter-in-law who are shown to care more about his pension and their inheritance than him.  He is soon diagnosed with stomach cancer, which at the time was almost certainly a death sentence.  After this discovery he is forced to come to terms that he will die very soon and begins reflecting on his life.  He realizes that he has been doing the same monotonous routine for the past 30 years as a bureaucrat and also recognized that he had never really done anything of substance during that time.  Further depressed by this he attempts to find pleasure in nightlife but realizes that simply immersing himself in this life would not change him substantially.  The next day he becomes entranced by a young female subordinate who is shown to have an extremely positive outlook to life and had a lot of enthusiasm.  After spending several days together he asks her what gives her this outlook and she tells him she finds happiness in her work and that he should do something similar with his work.

At this point in the film he undergoes a deep realization about his life.  He had been simply going along with the motions of the daily bureaucracy at work.  For 30 years he had allowed his external environment to limit and control him and he was therefore unhappy.  At this point he decided to make a change.  He accepted that if he was to find happiness he would have to change himself and only then would he be able to find happiness in life.  He returned to his work and approached it with a fresh mind and intense vigor.  He began a new project of filling in an open sewer and building a park over it and was able to finish it in 5 months, a record time for anything being done in the city.  Unfortunately, having finished the project, he died the night.  However he is shown to be at peace, almost with a slight aura of happiness around him that had not been portrayed throughout the film.  He had recognized that he could not control his outside conditions and that he could only change himself.  Making this change in thinking allowed him to make the most of his final months and ultimately die being happy.

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