Akira Kurosawa is world-famous for his movies about samurais, but he has also written and directed a great movie about the life of a bureaucrat, Ikiru (1952) [To Live] .


Ikiru (1952 Japan) aka To Live aka Living
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Shown: Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe

The movie follows the last days of Kanji Watanabe, a petty bureaucrat working in the same dusty office for the past 30 years, who is suddenly diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Facing death, Kanji attempts to truly live, for a first time after all these years of monotonous and meaningless existence. And he decides to fight the bureaucratic system that has provided him with numbing comfort over the decades, in order to finally get something done – a small public children’s park – that would become his legacy to the world.

The movie is considered a real masterpiece. The acting is superb. The cinematography, pacing, and editing all bear the marks of Kurosawa’s genius. (You can watch two critical analyses here and here.)

In Ikiru, bureaucracy is portrayed as the epitome of meaningless work and the anti-thesis of life itself. The piles of papers in Watanabe’s office have crowded out all joy and purpose. They threaten to fall any moment and crush the protagonist, after having consumed his soul already.

“Busy, always so very busy. But in fact this man does absolutely nothing at all, other than protecting his own spot. The best way to protect your place in the world, is to do nothing at all. Is this really what life is all about?”



Apparently, the script is inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novella ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich‘, which I have not ready yet, but probably should.

Ikiru has a Blue-Ray Criterion release which you can get here. A lower-quality version of the entire movie seems to be available on YouTube as well.