Theatrical release poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Sōjirō Motoki
Screenplay by
Music by Fumio Hayasaka
Cinematography Asakazu Nakai
Edited by Kōichi Iwashita
Distributed by Toho
Release dates
  • October 9, 1952 (1952-10-09)
Running time
143 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Ikiru (生きる, "To Live") is a 1952 Japanese film directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. The film examines the struggles of a minor Tokyo bureaucrat and his final quest for meaning. The script was partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy's 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, although the plots are not similar beyond the common theme of a bureaucrat struggling with a terminal illness.[1] It stars Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe.

Plot summary

Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a middle-aged man who has worked in the same monotonous bureaucratic position for thirty years. His wife is dead and his son and daughter-in-law, who live with him, seem to care mainly about Watanabe's pension and their future inheritance.

After learning he has stomach cancer and less than a year to live, Watanabe attempts to come to terms with his impending death. He plans to tell his son about the cancer, but decides against it when his son does not pay attention to him. He then tries to find escape in the pleasures of Tokyo's nightlife, guided by an eccentric novelist whom he just met. In a nightclub, Watanabe requests a song from the piano player, and sings "Gondola no Uta" with great sadness. His singing greatly affects those watching him. After one night submerged in the nightlife, he realizes this is not the solution.

The following day, Watanabe encounters a young female subordinate, Toyo, who needs his signature on her resignation. He is attracted to her joyous love of life and enthusiasm and tries to spend as much time as possible with her. She eventually becomes suspicious of his intentions and grows weary of him. After convincing her to join him for the last time, he opens up and asks for the secret to her love of life. She says that she doesn't know, but that she found happiness in her new job making toys, which makes her feel like she is playing with all the children of Japan and that he should find a purpose in his own life.

Inspired by her, Watanabe realizes that it is not too late for him and that he still can do something. He then dedicates his remaining time and energy to accomplish one worthwhile achievement before his life ends. Through his tireless and persistent efforts, he is able to overcome the stagnation of bureaucracy and turn a mosquito-infested cesspool into a children's playground.

The last third of the film takes place during Watanabe's wake, as his former co-workers try to figure out what caused such a dramatic change in his behavior. His transformation from listless bureaucrat to passionate advocate puzzles them. As the co-workers drink, they slowly realize that Watanabe must have known he was dying, even when his son denies this, as he was unaware of his father's condition. They drunkenly vow to live their lives with the same dedication and passion as he did. But back at work, they lack the courage of their newfound conviction.

An iconic scene from the film is from the last few moments in Watanabe's life, as he sits on the swing at the park he built. As the snow falls, we see Watanabe gazing lovingly over the playground, at peace with himself and the world. He again starts singing "Gondola no Uta".


Takashi Shimura


The film has a 100% positive rating based on 30 reviews from critics at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[2]

Ikiru ranks 459th on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[3] Ranked #44 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[4]

Roger Ebert included it in his Great Movies reviews in 1996, saying: "Over the years I have seen Ikiru every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us."[5] In his Great Movies review of Seven Samurai Ebert called it Kurosawa's greatest film.[6][7]





  1. "Ikiru". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  2. "Ikiru at Rottentomatoes.com". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
  3. "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  4. "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 44. Ikiru". Empire.
  5. Ebert, Roger (September 29, 1996). "Ikiru :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-01-16.
  6. Ebert, Roger (August 19, 2001). "The Seven Samurai :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-01-16.
  7. Ebert, Roger (September 29, 1996). "Ikiru Movie Review & Film Summary (1952)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  8. "Berlin International Film Festival (1954)". IMDb. Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  9. "4th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
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