Ikiru – How We Become More Aware of Life in the Presence of Death | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
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Ikiru – How We Become More Aware of Life in the Presence of Death

By Luisa Seftel Mar 8, 2023

Isn’t it ironic? For people, life often becomes more precious and colourful when they know that their time is up soon. Caught up in their routines, they rush from A to B and often stop being in awe of the things surrounding them. Things like watching the sunset with pure bliss, having a full-body laugh in the middle of a café or dedicating their focus to something that really matters. There are countless examples of living life with more meaning instead of missing it. This is precisely the theme of the Japanese movie classic “生きる” (ikiru) by Akira Kurosawa. In this article, we want to share why this movie is a must-watch without giving away too much of the plot. 

The Meaning of Ikiru

moss and sunbeams

Photo credits: Canva.com

Ikiru, or “生きる”, means “to live” in Japanese. Although it seems to be a simple, almost banal title, appearances are deceptive. The movie follows an ageing bureaucrat in his journey to find purpose and meaning in life. In post-war Tokyo, he encounters different people who help him on this quest and give him reasons not only to exist but to really live.  

The Setting of Ikiru

The black-and-white movie cinematography captures the beauty and tragedy of Tokyo in its 1950s setting after World War II. While we all know Tokyo as the city that it is now, overflowing with fun activities, neon lights and magnificent sightseeing spots, it held a totally different energy in the 50s. After the Second World War, it was still recovering from its devastating effects. Much of Tokyo had been destroyed, and people lived in poverty. The economy was slowly rebuilding, but there was still much work to be done to restore the city to its former glory. 

The Importance of 3 Characters in Ikiru

meaning of life in ikiru

Photo credits: Canva.com

In the course of the film Ikiru, the main character, interacts with three people who play a significant role in his life. Because of this, Watanabe starts reflecting on his prior behaviours and mindset and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, gradually realizing the importance of living a meaningful life.

The Novelist – Indulge More in Life

Watanabe meets a novelist at the movie’s beginning who gives him simple life advice. Being rather poor in comparison to wealthy Watanabe san, he enjoys the simple things in life – such as partying, women and gambling. In his 30 years of a desk job, the main character never savoured the life that was right in front of him. Like going out, dancing, laughing and celebrating life. Spending money on gambling or new clothes was also foreign to him. So thanks to the novelist, their shared experiences allowed Watanabe to start having a more carefree way of living life.   

The Girl – Be Youthful in Life

Miki Odagiri is one of Watanabes’ office colleagues, a bubbly young girl who gets bored easily by her job. Her manners are far from ladylike. Her sarcasm and directness are very rare characteristics in a movie from the 1950s. Akira Kurosawa not only challenged the characters in the movie with her behaviour but the audience’s approval of her as well. Watanabe is fascinated by the spontaneous and optimistic girl, and her pure being sparks his curiosity to spend more time with her and get behind the secret of her youthfulness.  

The Son – Learn from Life’s Mistakes

Watanabe’s son, Koichi, is an important character in his life because he serves as a reminder of the mistakes Watanabe has made. His distant relationship with Koichi highlights how much time Watanabe has wasted on meaningless pursuits and how little effort he has put into cultivating a deeper relationship with his son. This helps to motivate Watanabe to make changes in his life before it is too late and to focus on finding something meaningful that is worth fighting for. 

Why is Ikiru Worth Watching?

What is particularly fascinating about the film Ikiru is its simplicity. Nowadays, films have to get to the point quickly because of the shortened attention span of the audience. However, it is a masterpiece of Japanese cinema that is still relevant today. It offers a raw insight into the human condition and the importance of living life to the fullest. Ultimately, Watanabe finds purpose by dedicating himself to helping others in need – something which gives him peace and joy during his remaining days. Ikiru is an inspiring story of hope and redemption that will leave viewers feeling moved and inspired to reflect on their lives. 

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