Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why I love "Ikiru"

Ikiru is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen in my whole life. It revolves around Kanji Watanabe, a public servant who recently discovered he had stomach cancer and has only a few months to live. Realizing his whole life went by worthlessly (the movie goes on to describe that "he has been dead for the past 20 years"), he resolves to spend the last months of his life doing one final selfless act.

I love this movie. Let me share with you what parts of the movie impacted me. I'll mention a few spoilers to reinforce my point - but I think they won't destroy your viewing experience.

1. It is an attack against living for the sake of living - This is the problem Watanabe encountered - he has stomach cancer, and he only has 6 months to live. Several tries at redeeming his life (entertainment, drinking, gambling, flirting with a girl) failed. In a flash of insight, he decides to do something of enduring value with the last 6 months of his life - to put up a park in a city area where originally there was a cesspool.
...which I think is a problem many people have. It is a problem I have. Life is reduced to routine, and we try to break our routine by having "fun." But at the end of the day, what was the purpose of all that?

2. It is about politics - During Watanabe's funeral, Watanabe's (only?) achievement in life was claimed by the deputy mayor. A debate ensues between his colleagues finally showing bits and pieces of how Watanabe worked through the pain and the bureaucracy. He worked passionately and silently, as the cancer was killing him slowly. A note on the bureaucracy - the citizens who raised the request have been shuffled through all City Hall departments but to no avail. Watanabe-san had to humiliate and risk himself to get the papers moving.
...this issue still dominates workplaces and life in general. I do not like politics. It robs the excellent but self-effacing people the credit they deserve. And there is a breaking point.

3. It encourages you to listen - In one scene in the movie, Watanabe-san was about to tell his son of his stomach cancer when his son rudely interrupts him. His son then complains about his supposed "affair" with the young girl (see item 1) is causing problems. Dumbfounded at his son's outburst, he decided to not share his predicament at all. Fast forward to the funeral, the son cries, "Why is Dad so cruel? He didn't even tell us he had cancer."
...we have to listen. Maybe it won't be repeated again.

4. It tells the cold truth about inspiration - During the funeral, after his colleagues realize the great work Watanabe has done, they resolve to do things better. To "sacrifice self for the many" and to not waste his death. But once back to the daily grind, their idealism fades...
...Inspiration dies fast often. Which is why rallies are not effective. Which is why our politicians make great promises but fail to keep them. Which is why great ideas die in the bureaucracy.

There are other great things in the movie, but I choose to write only a few very obvious ones, and other more obscure ones.
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