In between getting back from New Mexico and reintegrating into my ordinary life, I watched Kurasawa’s 1952 film Ikuru over three nights. The film is quite long and rather slow but builds beautifully and hits a powerful emotional note at the end, even as it’s being sly. The actor who played Kenji Watanabe, Takahashi Samura, has been in many Japanese films–Drunken Angel, Rashoman, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo–but his face was unrecognizable from those other films; he seemed to inhabit Watanabe so completely.
Watanabe is somewhere between plain and just ugly, yet his face acquires a grace and beauty as he claims the last moments of his life as legitimately his. The reprise of his singing his one song, a pessimistic one about how young girls should seize while they can, in the shadow of those who won’t return, is amazing and heart-breaking. The film is wonderfully shot and framed and deserves a second and third viewing.