Goodwin also shows how Kurosawa uses editing techniques and objects as narrative devices: “the photograph of [Watanabe’s] wife at the center of the altar is the psychological frame through which Watanabe begins to look into his past in narrative flashback.” In the flashback in which Watanabe and his son are follow his dead wife’s hearse, Goodwin states that, “Metaphorically, the sequence places death as an immediate prospect within life and it suggests the narrative’s own patterns of approach and withdrawal from its protagonist’s death.” Both of these are examples of scenes and objects that offer a self-reflexive view of the film that acknowledges the techniques of filmmaking.
Goodwin’s book is different from the other works in the Bibliography, because it analyzes specific images and scenes in Ikiru, searching for allegorical meaning and self-reflexive commentary. The book definitely takes the position of Kurosawa as an auteur, suggesting that Kurosawa purposefully creates a continuity among the symbols and images in the film, in order give a deeper meaning to the film.
The book also has relevance to the film in its analysis of the immutability of the bureaucratic system, Jacoby writes, “the attempt on the part of democratic movements to break out of this bureaucratic closed sphere always ends by leading back into it;” evidence of this comes from both the women who are unable to make any progress in fixing the cesspool in their neighborhood and Kimura, who rises in an attempt to follow Watanabe’s example, but ends up right back at his desk where he started.
A possible explanation for the two-part structure of the films if that, as a bureaucratic, “the individual must […] undertake an essential schism within himself.” Jacoby is saying that the bureaucrat must make a distinction between the ‘bureaucratic’ self and the ‘social’ self, which is what Watanabe has been unable to do. The two selves are one and the same in Watanabe, and when he separates the two, by deciding to do something about the cesspool (which is in contrast to what his ‘bureaucratic’ self would do), the film separates in two. Now this might be inferring too much, but the text does offer many insights into the film that none of the other authors have made. While the book deals neither with cinema nor Ikiru, it provides an understanding of the process of bureaucratization and the bureaucratic system that allows for applications to the film. By applying these concepts and theories to the film, one comes away with a unique understanding of the film.
Richie’s analysis of Ikiru focuses on the translation of the title, Ikiru, which is “to live.” Richie touches on Kurosawa’s fondness for Dostoevsky, an existentialist, in order to frame Ikiru as a story of a man trying to validate his existence. As Watanabe “layer after layer peeled away,” we realize that it is Watanabe’s actions that make him exist both while he is alive and posthumously. Richie explains how Kurosawa highlights the “irony of the film,” by splitting the film into two parts: one told by an omniscient narrator while Watanabe is alive and one told by the attendees at his wake. The men at the wake, mostly Watanabe’s co-workers, misrepresent Watanabe’s actions at first, but when they finally begin to understand what Watanabe accomplished and why, they are too drunk to follow through with anything. Only one of the office workers takes Watanabe’s actions to heart, but as Kurosawa shows us, after being reprimanded, “he disappears behind his piles of papers as though he were being buried alive.”
An interesting element that Richie brings up in his analysis is the music used in the film. The classical piece used in the opening, is known as a ricercare, which, Richie explains, “means to search for again, to hunt for, or to follow.” While Richie acknowledges that there is nothing to suggest whether this was intentional or not, “this, after all, is what the film is about.” Watanabe’s search for meaning in his life is the impetus behind the action in Ikiru. Perhaps because of this, Richie’s analysis seems correct, because we all, as humans, search for meaning in our life and hope that our actions can speak for themselves both during our lives and after we are deceased.
Richie’s final conclusion (which is actually a quote by Richard Brown), that “the meaning of [Watanabe’s] life is what he commits the meaning of his life to be,” is a very positive take on the film, but the films beauty comes from the fact that it can be read many ways. Richie harms his argument though, by using lengthy quotations from the film, which are not always completely relevant and ending his analysis with a description of the film by Kurosawa himself which does little to enhance Richie’s argument and only serves to show Kurosawa’s unhappiness with both the film’s creation and the final product. The negativity of Kurosawa’s own analysis of his film puts a damper on the positive reading by Richie and the sense one gets after seeing the film that he or she has just seen one of the greatest films of all time.
The only problem with the “pokkuri” understanding of Watanabe’s death is revealed later on by Long, “Dying without the presence of other (kodoku nashi, or “lonely death”) is considered a terrible fate.” This interpretation adds understanding to the “wake scene,” in which the various coworkers of Watanabe try to convince themselves that he did not know about his cancer. The coworkers do not want to believe that Watanabe would willingly experience such a terrible fate, so they try to show that he did not do it willingly. It is very hard to understand the film in terms of both “pokkuri” and “kodoku nashi,” so maybe the best information that can be gleaned from Long’s book is that “preparation for death may mean arranging for property distribution, laying the groundwork for role inheritance, or doing activities the person has always wanted to do.” This offers a completely different take on Watanabe’s actions than Richie, who saw him as initially searching for solace. Through this interpretation, Watanabe’s adventure with the writer could be seen simply as a way of preparing for his death, although the film itself does not seem to suggest this. While none of these terms may have direct application to Ikiru, they do offer an interesting point of view of the culture behind the film and potentially provide some insight into the film that no other book offers.
While the book doesn’t have as much relevant information to Ikiru as other books I read, it does present some new information concerning the film in its own right, not on its aesthetic principles or themes. The book is able to ground the film in relation to other Japanese films of its time, which no other book does, which is valuable in a complete understanding of the film beyond its importance as an Akira Kurosawa film.
Yoshimoto follows this with a shot breakdown of the opening scene in Watanabe’s department and surmises from the shots used by Kurosawa that, “Watanabe is consistently denied the subject position of the look; instead he is placed in the position of the other’s look.” This establishes a theme that Yoshimoto then expands on, the theme of Watanabe as a subject, which is a offshoot of the theme of self-reflexivity. Another self-reflexive image Yoshimoto recognizes is in the silent scene in which Watanabe leaves the hospital. “On the wall behind Watanabe are many identical posters, advertisements for “Morinaga Penicillin Ointment.” The medical reference reminds us of the immediately preceding scene at the hospital, and the word “penicillin” also emphasizes the incurability of Watanabe’s disease.” Kurosawa also allows for self-reflexivity in the ‘nightlife scenes,’ “Mirrors are sued to disorient our perception of scenes’ spatial unity.” All of these examples highlight Kurosawa’s use of self-reflexivity in the film, which bring the viewers attention on the process of watching the movie. Yoshimoto argues that Kurosawa is commenting on the film itself and the audience’s perception of events in the film. The audience members thus becomes aware that they are watching a film, which succeeds in distancing them from the protagonist, Watanabe, and calling into question the images on the screen (i.e. the ‘stories’ told by the coworkers at the wake). In relation to this last idea, Yoshimoto writes, “[Ikiru] demonstrates the problematic relation of narration and subjectivity.”
The most interesting self-reflexive element in the film I found was the actual structure of the film. Yoshimoto writes, “when the protagonist of Ikiru abruptly disappears about two-thirds of the way through, his death surprises us as something utterly shocking, even though it is totally expected,” and this is because “We assume that biological death and closure of our lives somehow coincide with each other. What surprises us is that this is hardly the case.” Yoshimoto’s argument concerns self-reflexivity in Ikiru and how this aids the goals of the film. The questions that the two-part structure forces the audience members to ask themselves are just one example of the various techniques Kurosawa employs to force the viewer to change with Watanabe; the movie itself becomes catharsis.
Russell also shows the similarities in setting among various Kurosawa films. She writes, “Ikiru is also an important film in Kurosawa’s cinema because it deals directly with the issue of urban development.” Most of Kurosawa’s non-period films have an urban setting, but the city itself is integral to the plot of Ikiru, because Watanabe’s quest is against Tokyo itself, the stagnant bureaucracy, the icy social interactions, etc. and this is all embodied by the cesspool, which is a product of urban life. Russell also notices that the “extreme weather conditions […] In city films, they soften the urban setting into a site of humanist compassion, exemplified by the final soft snowfall in Ikiru.” The urban setting provides a good backdrop to the actions of Kurosawa’s gangster films (“gendai-geki” ), but it provides the impetus behind the action in Ikiru. Russell’s article separates her discussion of Kurosawa into two parts, his movies about “men with suits” (of which Ikiru is one) and his movies about “men with swords,” which is ironic considering the two-part structure of Ikiru and many other Kurosawa’s other films. Russell makes some interesting points that are not touched on by other authors, because, like Prince’s book, she analyzes the film in comparison to other Kurosawa films.
Discussing the film Drunken Angel, Kurosawa recounts, “As background to the characterizations, we decided to create an unsightly drainage pond where people threw their garbage” (156), which is an image that returns in Ikiru, although it has a different allegorical meaning. Many plot elements and images from Kurosawa’s films were taken straight from his life (a point made by Goodwin in his book ), and Ikiru is no different. Kurosawa says of the studio he began his career at, “Management theory at P.C.L. regarded the assistant directors as cadets who would later become managers and directors” (95). The bureaucratic elements in the management system at P.C.L., that Kurosawa criticizes, has echoes in the stagnant and immutable Japanese civil service in Ikiru.
Events from his life also influenced Kurosawa in the existential themes he deals with in Ikiru. Kurosawa recounts, in the chapter “A Horrifying Event,” an early scene from his childhood, when he and his brother walked around the city looking at the death and destruction caused by the Kato Earthquake. His brother uncomfortably forces him to look at the hundreds of dead bodies, but when Kurosawa goes to sleep, he does not have any nightmares. When the young Kurosawa asks why he didn’t have any nightmares, his brother responds, “If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of.” This message has deep significance to Ikiru, because Watanabe is only able to live when he confronts his cancer head on. When he lies in his bed at home and cries himself to sleep, when he goes with the writer to experience the decadence of modern Tokyo, he is, in effect, trying to ‘shut his eyes’ to the cancer and ignore its existence. Only when he faces it head on, does he realize that he has the power to give his limited life meaning. There are many other events in Kurosawa’s life that have relevance to Ikiru, because it is a film about life itself and the search for meaning in life. Kurosawa’s past offers insight into not only why the author chose to write about this subject, but also why he comes to the conclusions that he does.
PARTIAL SYNOPSIS--> THE ENTIRE WORK IS TOO LONG TO POST THE ENTIRE THING!!!
The “Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is referenced briefly in Ikiru, in the scene in which Watanabe meets the writer, but the play offers a richer understanding of the film if the two are seen as opposites of one another. The basic plot of the story is that a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for all the world’s knowledge and eventually goes to hell for it. The two stories do share some similarities, for example, the known time of death of each character and the absence of God as a ‘way out, but it is the differences that allow for a deeper understanding.
The writer presents himself as a ‘free Mephistopheles,’ which sets up the initial comparison between the two works. The Mephistopheles analogy does not hold up, because the writer functions in a different manner than the demon Mephistopheles. The writer is not the keeper of all arcane knowledge and is admittedly not even a very good writer. His jaunt with Watanabe, through the nightlife of Tokyo, provides Watanabe with no deeper understanding of himself or his situation, which parallels with Faustus in that Faustus also gets ‘nothing’ in the end from Mephistopheles, because no knowledge in the world can save him from his fate. Watanabe actually comes to a similar conclusion, realizing that earthly pleasures will not cure his true pain, which comes not from the cancer, but from the knowledge that he has missed out on life. The false Mephistopheles, the writer, is the inversion of Faustus’s Mephistopheles and this analogical fowl-up has importance in its revelation that the film and play are inversions of one another.
Faustus’s search for knowledge leads to his downfall and arrival in hell, whereas Watanabe’s search for understanding leads to his salvation. The initial ‘Mephistophelean’ adventures of both Faustus and Watanabe are revealed to be fruitless, but it takes Faustus until the end of the play to realize it, but he is damned anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Watanabe thinks he is damned, but unlike Faustus, he has a path to salvation. The inversion here is that Faustus’s journey is a descent, while Watanabe’s is an ascent; this is a theme discussed in Goodwin’s analysis of the film.
The fact that the film’s Mephistopheles works for free could be Kurosawa saying that in a modern, secular society like Japan, the answers to man’s questions do not lie with God, but with man himself. Faustus was forced to turn to the ruler of hell in order to further his knowledge, but Watanabe, unlike Faustus, finds the knowledge within himself. He tries to find the answers he is searching for, the meaning to his life, in other people, like the female coworker, Toyo, but he discovers that he can only rely on himself for the answers. The gap in time between the two works may account for the difference in fate of the Protagonist (that is if you view them as complimentary pieces).