Akira Kurosawa’s effect on cinema is impossible to measure. Somebody could say that he was the greatest director to ever get behind the camera and it would be hard to argue with them. From his filmmaking technique to his influence on numerous genres, to the countless remakes of his films, Kurosawa’s influence looms strong even in today’s cinema and doesn’t look like it is going to stop anytime soon.
The latest Kurosawa influence comes in the form of Living, Oliver Hermanus’s British adaptation of Kurosawa’s Ikiru, one of his most revered films. Hermanus credits the screenplay to Kurosawa and Kazuo Ishiguro, the original screenwriters of Ikiru, signaling a near-identical remake, which is basically what we got. Though Living doesn’t have nearly the same emotional effect as Ikiru, the film is beautifully shot and acted.
Living takes place in 1950s England, which is kind of funny seeing as Ikiru came out in 1952, so our characters could have feasibly seen the film. Anyway, the film looks at Williams (Bill Nighy), a quiet, ghostly man who finds out that he has a terminal illness and tries to find meaning in his life before he dies.
Bill Nighy gives a heart-wrenching performance at Williams. We are first introduced to Williams while on his way to work, where he sees but barely acknowledges his fellow co-workers. Williams walks at a molasses pace, barely raises his voice above a whisper, never shows any emotion, and keeps his head down, focused solely on the day at work. He’s zombified and seems to have been that way his entire life, with little connection to anyone, including his family. But when he finds out he is terminally ill, everything changes. He first tries to escape the idea of his death by going out on the town with a writer he just met (Tom Burke) but quickly realizes that isn’t going to solve anything. Williams then connects with Margaret (Aimee Lou Brown, in a delightful performance), a bright, young former co-worker who inspires Williams in how he can make the most of his remaining life. Watching Nighy go from zombified worker to a man with purpose was a showcase for the legendary actor, and I especially loved the scenes between him and Brown. The two have great chemistry and their moments together are sweet and inspiring.
The film is absolutely stunning, with sets and costumes immersing us into 1950s London and gorgeous cinematography. Though not as emotional as Ikiru, this is still a beautiful portrait of the appreciation of life and what means most to us. The only thing I question about this remake is why they made an exact remake. There were no updates made except for the time period and setting. If you haven’t seen Ikiru, it might have a bigger effect on you, but for those who have, the film is far less effective. Maybe changing some of the beats to the plot or updating it to a more modern setting and looking at what people think is important about life in today’s society might have been interesting and still kept the integrity of Kurosawa’s original. Regardless, Living is a solid adaptation of one of Kurosawa’s best.
Living premiered in the PREMIERES section of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
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