July 21, 2008

Ikiru A thought

I apologise for lack of posting. However tonight I went to see Ikiru- the great film by Akira Kurosawa- the problem with Ikiru is that it is a film which by its nature is not easy to comment on. It is incredibly difficult to grasp what the film is actually about- not because the plot is hard to grasp naturally- but because the ramifications are so dense. In a sense that is what defines a good story- it is defined through the fact it has texture, it has depth. You can go back and back to it, go and rethink an aspect, ask a different question, see the whole story from a different angle. Ikiru is one such film: there are so many different interesting angles that you can see it from, so many aspects to it- like a painting by Escher it repays neverending analysis and thought.

Ikiru is a film about death- we know from the first frame that our hero will die soon. There is no doubt about it and we know the end as soon as we know the beggining of the film. You might think that this takes away the interest of the film- far from it. For this is a film about what it means to die, and therefore about what it means to be alive. How ought one live one's life- if as is said any day could be your last? (In the age of industrial warfare, that sentence has a particular poignancy- especially when stated in a society like Japan in the fifties which had been overhung by war.) Through that Kurosawa investigates any number of interesting issues- the ethical, political, social and bureacratic that defined contemporary Japan. However for today's purposes I do not want to focus on any of those themes- preferring instead to concentrate on something else- Kurosawa's treatment of old age.

The central character in this piece is an old man- but curiously and unlike say other notable filmks of the same era- for example Umberto D- he is an old man surrounded by the younger generation. There is noone of a comparative age in the film (there is actually one minor exception a clerk at the civil service office in which he works) but there is noone else. Noone else is confronted by death in quite the way our main character is. This means that he relates to the others in a curious way. He desires them- for their life. They consider that his desires are sexual- there is one girl who is supposed by many to be his mistress- but actually it is her charming vitality that he desires. She even begins to find him scary, freakishly stalking her, he seems to any dispassionate audience to have lost a sense of perspective and discovered infatuation but in truth it is with what she represents that he is infatuated not her in particular.

The thing that reawakes Watanabe, the old man, is not a young mistress as all his friends think, but is youth itself. Kurosawa is interesting about this- because during the film he proposes a definition of youth- youth is the ability to love life. And loving life is the ability to take what you are doing seriously. He is a council official- the moment that he recovers his youth is when he becomes interested, engaged, involved. It is the moment when he discovers meaning in his life- when he recovers his zest for something- that something being doing for someone else. But it could be anything- it is the interest that gives him youth, the obsession with something, the sense of unreasonableness- the sense of unaccomodating demand upon life. He demands that life be made better for those whom he is responsible to- and demands it despite the fact that it is impolite- he becomes youthful because he enjoys impropriety but impropriety not for its own sake- towards an end.

Movement away from death is not the fact he faces down death nor some potion, but it is that he faces away from death, tears away the swathes of cloth that have mummified him and looks on life again. He dies smiling.


Lord James Bigglesworth said...

he is an old man surrounded by the younger generation. There is noone of a comparative age in the film

Could well be me. That's my curse that it is the age I find myself with and the thoughts running through the mind do play on my own age with a poignancy which I might not, were I to live a more normal life, bother with.