Ikiru (1952)

Ikiru (Ikiru means ‘to live’
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni
(number 459)

A black and white Japanese movie from the early 50s – the only other Kurosawa film I’ve watched is Seve Samurai which I thoroughly enjoy but suspect this movie is nothing like that one.

A man who has worked for decades in the same bureaucratic job finds out he has less than a year to live. This piece of storytelling is handled beautifully though – the bureaucracy shown with a group of people wanting to complain about an cesspool in their community and being sent place to place, through department after department until they’re back where they started.

The diagnosis is shown with Kanji Watanabe waiting in the doctor’s office and a talkative fellow patient explaining that if you have really bad cancer then the doctor will only say it’s a mild ulcer and to eat whatever you like… Kanji gets more and more afraid and then gets the mild ulcer diagnosis. It’s an inevitable piece of dialogue, and the emotions are sold perfectly by Takashi Shimura. You feel his fear and his sorrow just by watching the way his eyes crinkle and shine.

With this as a premise, it’s undoubtedly a movie with an aura of sadness to it. Watanabe asks what he’s been doing with his whole life? The only thing he has to show for it is the certificates of long service for his government job.

Its kind of heartbreaking how relevant this whole story line is still to modern society, like.. working endlessly at a job and not doing other stuff with your life. The way bureaucracy can wear down intention and make people not even want to try.

Does it make me love the people? I adored the novelist with his hat and his high thoughts, Toyo and her Genki outlook on life but ultimately I loved Watanabe the most. How relatable is he? I’m sure everyone at some point in time is waiting in a doctor’s office imagining the worse, or daydreaming about ‘what if I only had six months to go?’ what would you do? What could you do?

Bechdel test: Toyo talks a lot but not to other women. This movie is pretty tightly from Kanji’s point of view and the other characters pretty much talk to him.

Best line:
Kanji’s brother to his son: he’s stayed single all these 20 years for you, makes sense he’d explode eventually.

Kanji Watanabe: I can’t afford to hate anyone. I don’t have that kind of time.

Novelist: How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death.

State of Mind: I feel that this movie’s spiritual successor is Departures, a Japanese film I really love. It was long but it didn’t feel long to me, it wasn’t boring, there was always an emotion or an experience happening on screen.

It makes you want to go out and seize the day a bit, but it also is a calm movie so it quite made me want to sleep as well. Will seemed to enjoy it as well, although he kept trying to name all the other characters as manic pixie dream (whatevers), when really the motivation factor was Watanabe’s cancer.

Watched movie count


My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

My Neighbour Totoro
Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki
(number 282)

In 2005 Disney translated and dubbed this movie and the Western world was introduced to something amazing. Some of my friends had seen Nausicaa before this, and I know I’d seen Princess Mononoke but I also knew that this was a very different sort of movie so I had no idea what to expect. Suffice to say I was delighted.

To me the most amazing thing about this film is that it’s a story with no villain, which is very unusual when it comes to children’s animated moves. When I was a kid my favourite movies were the Care Bear movies and the Henson films, Labyrinth and Dark Crystal which are full of villains. The whole plot is about good guys overcoming bad, but Totoro is just a magic tale about family conflict and confused and sad children.

I have to say, Mei’s personality and emotions pull on all my youngest child, younger sister feels. Hayao does a good job of showing her trying so hard to keep up with Satsuke, being scared but refusing to be anything but brave. It’s so familiar and so very real. It’s beautiful.

Then of course, Mei finds Totoro and if there was every a friendlier, softer looking gigantic mystical troll thing then I don’t think I’ve seen it. And the little rabbit like baby Totoro minor spirits are so cute! It’s just so appealing in so many ways.

The neko basu (cat bus) is both disturbing and appealing and I love that about it. The multiple legs are creepy like a centipede and the noise is makes is unsettling, but it’s so friendly that you just like it anyway. The inside looks so plush and soft too.

Does it make me love the people? It makes me love all the characters and the world too. It’s a gorgeous film for capturing the magic in the world around us, the pure wonder that children hold for the world. The joy of discovery and taking delight in what we see.

Bechdel test: Yes, Mei and Satsuke talk about all sorts of things and almost never boys! Also Satsuke talks to Nanny, which.. may or may not be a real name actually. But she is a very important character to the story so I’d count her, especially since the movie passes anyway.

Best line:
Tatsuo Kusakabe: Trees and people used to be good friends. I saw that tree and decided to buy the house. Hope Mom likes it too. Okay, let’s pay our respects then get home for lunch.

State of Mind: The gentle environmental message is wonderful because unlike so many other movies where it hits you over the head, this movie just makes you love the forest, growing plants and living in peace with nature. I adore this film, I don’t ever seem to get sick of it. So beautiful and so peaceful.

Plus I’m clearly a fan, I have a soot ball, a little snoring Totoro and a Totoro onesie so … I do love this film.

This is my 100th posted blog review of a 500 list movie! I wanted it to be a movie I knew I loved 🙂
Watched movie count

Akira (1988)

Directed and written by Katsuhiro Ohtomo based on his graphic novel. Also written by Izô Hashimoto
(number 440)

I remember first seeing this with my first boyfriend Scott, who adored this movie and opened my eyes to what anime really was. A few years ago me and Sally went to see a show in the festival of the arts about Osamu Tezuka which pointed out something really obvious to me – a huge percentage of Japanese movies are in some way about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Akira starts with a huge atomic explosion in the middle of Tokyo. It’s followed up immediately by the character introductions – which are peppered with ultra violence and quickly demonstrate the dystopian post apocalyptic world that this movie is so famous for.

It’s a pretty 80s style future as well, lots of bright strange patterns and bright neon everything –

The plot is pretty simple – a bike gang of thuggish teens gets accidentally involved in a secret government project involving human enhancement and psychic powers. Then destruction happens. The lead Keneda is your classic too cool for school leading dude, who gets entranced with a girl. His bright red high tech bike is almost as much a character as he is.

The music is essential to the movie and the plot, being totally matched to the images as well as the plot points that it matches to. It’s an excellent example of how a soundtrack can enhance the movie experience. It’s all pretty experimental music as well, rather than lyrical.

The kids of the Akira project are deeply creepy. Simultaneously small children and withered old men and woman.. the sequence where they visit Tetsuo in his bed as toys… it’s all nightmare fuel. Then later on we get Tetsuo’s body horror and it becomes high octane nightmare fuel. Of course by the time he backs down enough to ask for help it’s far too late. He’s been caught up in his own ego and desire to prove himself to Keneda. It’s the atomic bomb meltdown of the human body, with all the disgusting biology implied by that image. Tetsuo’s ego and need to prove himself triggers a huge, destructive meltdown where he is reborn in the flash of ultimate destruction.

It’s deep, yo!

As with many films, the ultimate message is one of sacrifice for the greatest good. Ultimately the espers (weird psychic little kids) choose to go into the ball of light Akira made to save Keneda – only this sacrifice doesn’t stop the white light from exploding and destroying much of neo Tokyo – the implication is that this is a good thing. This piece of mass destruction is cleansing and allows the sun to come through the clouds, something we haven’t really seen in the movie before. Akira and Tetsuo have achieved transcendence, they no longer need a physical body, and Kei has developed psychic powers seemingly without being operated on, and it’s her voice which gives Keneda direction.

Does it make me love the people? Yeah. Although it’s difficult to immediately connect with characters with no respect for the law or society, somehow you do empathise and love them anyway.

Bechdel test: Hrm. It’s tricky. Kyoko and Kei interact when Kyoko possesses Kai and speaks through her, but I don’t think you can count that as a conversation that they have. I don’t believe it passes, but it sort of feels like it’s off to the side of almost passing.

Best line:

Tetsuo: Why do you always have to come and save me?

Kaneda: Now you’re king of the mountain, but it’s all garbage!

State of Mind: Impressed and disturbed. I want to go back to Japan!

Watched movie count