As it has happened with other older films I have watched, Ikiru had a certain pace and style that was hard to relate to and interpret given the great changes filmmaking has experienced in its century-long history.
Once I broke it down and understood the significance of what I had just seen given the context of its creation, Kurosawa’s work opened up to me and showed me how special it is.
In terms of emotional depth and characterization, Ikiru has very few equivalents. The film unravels ever so slowly as we see a man, already certain of his death, rediscover his passion for life.
It is as detailed a journey as it has ever been put in film. The last scene is an appropiate and moving culmination that borders on simple perfection. It captures a man engulfed by a quiet sense of joy, that whistles his favorite tune in a cold and dark winter night as he swings in the middle of a playground he managed to get built against all odds.
This seems to be a small triumph at first, but for this man we get to know so intimately, it had become his dying wish, the reason to keep going and, more importantly, an action of pure good that was to remembered and appreciated well beyond his death.
Besides its poetic significance, the last scene of Ikiru is also a striking visual achievement that has stuck in my head years after watching the film just once. The white snow, the dark night, the smoke emanating from Watanabe’s mouth as he slowly walks towards the swing only to start riding by himself, in a complete moment of quiet jubilee. It is as peculiar a closing scene as there has ever been.
This is a moment that is touching, visually striking and one of the most effective examples of the struggles and victories of the human condition presented in film.