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).