A Japanese beaurocrat (Shimura) discovers he has terminal cancer, and after an initially fruitless search for meaning in his dull existence, decides to become highly assertive in the construction of a park in his city.
With elements borrowed from Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, and Rashomon, this acute study of middle-class morals and the return to normalcy in post-Bomb Japan is reportedly Steven Spielberg's favourite film. And it's easy to see why. To borrow a line from Isaac Stern in Spielberg's own Shindler's List, Ikiru the movie is 'an absolute good', putting popular pretenders that detail the value of life such as It's A Wonderful Life squarely in their place. It's one of those deceptively simple and simply gorgeous stories that belongs high on the list of films that should be seen by everyone, although at no time are you under any illusions that the artist involved is anything but a master.
In lesser hands, it would have descended into mawkish melodrama. But master director Akira Kurosawa ensures that Takashi Shimura's dying bureaucrat never becomes an object of pity, even after he has realised that his over-vaunted opinion of his petty responsibilities has prevented him from living a worthwhile life.
Meticulously constructed, beautifully played and poignant.