Mr. Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a Tokyo City Hall bureaucrat near retirement, discovers he is dying of stomach cancer. Reflecting on his life, he finds that it has been empty, that he has not really lived. He devotes the time he has left to modestly exploring the possibilities of living. In a final effort to give his life meaning, he forces a reluctant bureaucracy to turn a badly drained neighborhood area into a park for children.


Mr. Watanabe's upsetting discoveries are potentially anyone's, and this film works its magic very broadly, making us feel the mixture of disappointment, desperation, and hope this aging bureaucrat experiences as, in the face of death, he tries to find life and meaning where there was little or none before. (His office staff's secret name for him is "The Mummy.")

Kurosawa gives us a rich and highly empathetic view of impending death from the inside, and we are thus able to understand what many of the guests at Mr. Watanabe's funeral do not, which was how he was led to do the things he did in his final days in a passionate attempt to claim some meaning for his life. The story's situation is comparable to that of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich (see this database), but where the dying Ivan is mysteriously saved by grace, Mr. Watanabe is saved by his own considerable efforts.


Japanese with English subtitles. Written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Akira Kurosawa.

Primary Source

Home Vision Cinema