Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A movie a week

I had been thinking for a while about using this blog to write about movies that I like or hate. It'll give me a chance to at least update the blog once a week for that. :)

The movie this week is what I have always felt is probably one of the best movies I have ever experienced. To say that I just "watched" Ikiru would be wrong.

I watched Ikiru in the year 1999, I think. I had just moved to Seattle, to an apartment within walking distance from the fabulous Egyptian theatre there. Another theatre I used to frequent then was the Grand Illusion theater. This is where I got a chance to see some of the really memorable movies. One of them was the movie of this week, Kurosawa's Ikiru.

I could talk about the plot or the screenplay or the acting or direction, but that would really be pointless. It is one of the best works of Akira Kurosawa, and that in itself makes it one of the best movies ever made. It stars Takeshi Shimura in probably the most well known on-screen roles of his.

What I want to talk about are different aspects of the movie that really made it so dear to me. The first was the sheer impact of it. I've seen it in entirety only once, but ever since then its imagery comes back to me with a strong force. It makes you want to do something good with your life. The impact is probably accenuated by how the truth unfolds in the movie -- through impressions and anecdotes of people touched by an honest life.

One of the scenes that I felt was particularly interesting was when Takeshi Shimura is walking down the street, after learning about his illness. He is so lost in thoughts that he doesn't hear or see anything around him. And neither do we -- there is no sound. Then abruptly, he gets a jolt and gets out of the way of a truck -- and we hear noise of a busy street. The camera pans out from focusing on Shimura to take in a lot more around him. The result is very effective. These things are what make Kurosawa's movies a treat to watch.

The essence of the movie is about asking oneself -- what have you done with your life? I remember that a friend left his job, has been roaming the world and doing odd things, with the quest: How to live life. It's a question probably impossible to answer before having lived it -- and I don't thing anyone can answer this for you. Lots of people I talk to -- whether successful and rich professionals or young teenagers or older parents -- have been reading Paul Coelho's The Alchemist. Many of these actually express a desire to figure out how to live life. This of course implies that their current life isn't what they have in mind. All these people will have something to learn from Ikiru. It teaches a simple lesson about life much better than the Paul Coelhos and Richard Bachs of the world.

One of the things I did after watching this movie was to get the lyrics (translated in English) of the song that Takeshi Shimura sings in the movie. It is supposedly a much older song in Japan, and is used very effectively in the movie.

If you watch plenty of world cinema, you will slowly come to realize the impact of Kurosawa's movies on cinema everywhere. The best loved Hindi movie of all time, Sholay, is a remake (a most remarkable one at that) of a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Star Wars was inspired by Hidden Fortress. There are countless other such remakes. But you will also find scenes from Kurosawa's movies that seem to have inspired scenes in other movies. Watch Seven Samurai and then watch Lagaan. Scenes where Aamir Khan takes on the entire village to convince them to take on the British is very similar to the argument in the Japanese village over hiring Samurai to fight the dacoits.

Similar such inspirations from Ikiru show up in movies when you least expect them to. My love affair with Korean movies started with the great action movie Nowhere to Hide. The movie itself seemed to draw inspiration, albeit lightly, from a Kurosawa movie Nora Inu. In the middle of the movie one of the characters is sitting in a children's swing in a snow covered field, dwelling on a recent shoot out. The first thing you think when you see this scene is "Ikiru!"

Few movies have the power to make you want to do something with your life. Ikiru is one.

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