Living is a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, itself his homage to Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The screenplay is by Kazuo Ishiguro, who may be the perfect person for the job - born in Japan, raised in Britain, Nobel laureate in literature. The movie stays faithful to the original (some scenes almost frame for frame) while at the same time providing a more contemporary time, place, and English language (with the run time decreased from 143 to 102 minutes) all combining to provide a greater accessibility for many today. 

The protagonist, Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), is the long-standing director of the bureaucratic Public Works Department in post-WWII London. When given a terminal prognosis he starts asking the big questions of life, quickly finding out that not only does he not know the answers but is struggling to phrase the proper questions.
After a brief time trying to find his answers through a night on the town, Williams befriends a former Public Works employee, a bright and vivacious young lady who, journeying with him, leads him to the threshold of what he is looking for. The film remains loyal to one of Kurosawa's most acclaimed devices when, after his funeral, we are told the rest of Williams' journey to find himself as his co-workers share their memories, piecing together the final few weeks of his life.    


I was particularly moved by the song "The Rowan Tree" used in place of Ikuru's "The Gondola Song". Kurosawa wanted the protagonist's singing of this song (at two key moments of the movie) to be "otherworldly". Living accomplishes this in its two corresponding scenes as the lyrics and Scottish folk tune resonate with me. 

Nighy's portrayal of the staunch bureaucrat turned activist is captivating. There are several scenes in which he shares the depths of his heart with little to no dialogue. This is especially poignant when trying to discuss his prognosis with his family who fail to pick up on his needs and only see what they interpret as a scandalous relationship with his former employee.  

Living is a faithful and accessible remake of Ikiru. The movie is well summarized by Annie Dillard's maxim "How you live your days is how you live your life."  


Nighy's performance nominated for 2023 Best Actor Oscar; The Dillard quote is from  The Writing Life;




Studio 9 Films

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