Ranking: #108/111

Director: Akira Kurosawa (Japan)

Genre: Socio-Psychological Drama

The movie begins with a startling opening shot of an X-ray of the stomach of the main protagonist, who is the Public Affairs Section Chief in the civil service, which reveals signs of cancer. He is Kanji Watanabe, a widower. At the time, stomach cancer was a virtual death sentence. The doctor thinks Watanabe will probably only live for another six months.

In the civil service, there is a public complaint about a cess pool of open sewage to deal with. Some citizens have come to the offices to request that it should be filled up, with a playground for children erected in its place.

The cesspool mirrors the cancer in his body.

Director Akira Kurosawa uses a lot of close-ups of facial expressions in this movie to show the grief associated with having a terminal illness. But there is another kind of pain the central character must deal with: his regrets and self-recriminations at a passionless life he has lived as a bureaucrat just “killing time” and not really living. His certificate for twenty-five years of distinguished service is seen as useless, a monument to his wasted life in an office where “nothing new ever happens”. His nickname at work is the Mummy.

Then Watanabe begins to rebel against his past life, finding the courage and the willpower to explore life to the full before it’s too late. The new hat he buys for himself becomes a symbol of his new approach of wanting to get things done. He ends up having a fun time in the city with a vivacious young woman from the office who captivates him because she is so full of life and yet so unselfish. Inspired by her, he digs deep and succeeds in getting the children’s park built in the slum area.

As he sits and sways in the swing in the newly erected park, it is snowing heavily and his facial expressions show he has gained peace by accepting his fate. He is like a man-child on the swing, having recovered his innocence right at the end of his life. 

Ikuru  is a touching, multi-layered, textured portrait of human mortality.