I often wonder if I’m living my best life. By that, I mean truly making the most out of every minute. I’m listening to the Kung Fu Panda 3 soundtrack whilst writing this but perhaps I should be listening to How to Train Your Dragon instead? Maybe I shouldn’t be spending my time writing this review at all. I know, I’ll go for a walk. Never mind, it’s 0°C outside and my favourite coat is in the wash. I’ll get back to work on my design portfolio then. On second thoughts, I’m too tired for that. Fuck, I’ve just spent the last minute thinking about what I should do, what a waste of time. Where was I? Ah yes, Ikiru.
In case you couldn’t tell, this is a film that had me self reflecting from the very first scene. Our protagonist, Watanabe, is introduced; he’s spent the last 30 years on autopilot, simply existing from day to day. His job is monotonous and his routine repetitive, so much so that his colleagues have nicknamed him ‘mummy’. A lifeless soul, spending each day stuck behind towering piles of paperwork. He discovers that his stomach trouble is actually cancer, leaving him with only 6 months left to live. This terrified me. I imagined myself in 30 years time, still in the same job, eating the same lunch, living in the same house. A stark warning for being complacent. I’d never imagined that my life could turn out that way but I guess no one ever does. A future containing a comfortable job with a nice family and a nice house is much easier to think about, though it might not be much different.
I’ve seen many movies that focus on getting the best out of life. They often contain a protagonist suddenly deciding to backpack around the world or finally asking their lifelong crush out for a date, sometimes even both (I’m looking at you Walter Mitty). None are as effective as Ikiru though. It knows that appreciating life does not require one singly defined thing or sudden acts of spontaneity. Sure they might help, but those things aren’t intrinsically connected to what every individual considers as being fulfilling, nor are they sustainable. The film also knows that most might never snap out of this complacent trance that plagues us all, even ending on a scene that insinuates staring death in the face as the only way to fully wake up.
It’s a melancholic yet oddly warming film. The bittersweet musings on what makes life worth living are neatly intertwined with a commentary on legacy and the normality of doing the bare minimum. Some bold directional choices keep this from being bogged down by melodrama and leave it sitting high above anything similar. Truly feels like an essential watch not just for movie lovers, but for everyone.
Who needs a new years resolution when this film exists. I am shaken.