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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Mummy Awakes

Ikiru (1952) on IMDb

Plot Overview

An X-ray fills the screen. “This stomach,” says the narrator, “belongs to the protagonist of the story. Stomach cancer is there, but he doesn't know it.” It's not so much that it's killing him, but that he's “never really lived.” A doctor (Masao Shimizu) spares him the bad news that he has about six months left. Another stomach patient, though, (Atsushi Watanabe) tells him the bitter truth.

The protagonist Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) has been a civil servant for the past thirty years with a perfect attendance record. He's Section Chief of Public Works in a large Japanese city—Tokyo? Along with his co-workers he brushes off the Kuroe Women's Association's petition to repair and fix a culvert. They want to turn an open sewage drainage area—it smells, breeds mosquitos, and sickens their children—into a park. With typical bureau­cratic smugness (“Stop giving us the run­around”) it's passed along to various agencies, with little hope of it ever being acted upon.

Kanji-san atypically hits a bar and shares with a denizen of the night, a writer (Yûno­suke Itô), his bad news of dying before he's had a chance to live. Itô commiserates with him, saying, “It's our human duty to enjoy life.” They stay up to party hearty, then Kanji does it again the next night, until a young female colleague named Toyo (Miki Odagiri) joins him. But she gets too tired to stay up after she starts her new job, so she cuts him loose. Before they part he confides to her, “You're so full of life. And me ... I'm jealous of that … please ... if you can ... show me how to be like you!”


For his bureaucratic inertia, Mlle. Toyo had nicknamed him, “The Mummy.” It fit. As for giving him advice, what can she tell him: “All I do is work and eat and make these little things”—her new job has her manufacturing children's toys, which she now finds fulfilling. She advises him to “make some­thing,” which brings us back to the ignored petition to build a park. Wise King Solomon advised, (Eccl. 2:24) “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.”

I can give you my perspective as an engineer on “mak[ing] his soul enjoy good in his labour.” I took my rain­coat with me on vacation last week so I wouldn't get wet. When I had to trans­fer busses, I dis­covered the draw­string on my rain hood had become snagged in the structure of the seat. No amount of manipu­lation would dislodge it. Its end consisted of a knot covered by a bell-shaped plastic sheath. Figuring I could wedge it out, I gave it a strong pull, like to break the string, but it popped loose. This is in contrast to an umbrella some­one had left propped next to a seat, which the driver had merely to lift once I reported it to her. Some­times, not every time, making one's soul enjoy good is like pulling teeth.

Another example is fixing a shorted electrical outlet strip at my apartment. My hand tools were insufficient to remove the rivets holding it together, so I leant it to a friend at a machine shop who will use a sander to decapitate the rivets. I can reassemble it using screws. This brute force method is in contrast to staying off my roof weakened by rain, where I normally go to trim the hedge. Some­times making one's soul enjoy good is like replacing fillings in teeth.

The best example, though, is church. “From the hand of God” comes a King James Bible (KJV) with which we may edify our­selves in conver­sation and study. More recently, though, modern English versions have been seeping into the church like that smelly sewage in the neighbor­hood. Further­more, as the sewer water bred mosquitoes that sickened children, so these corrupt versions can damage novice Christians. Our preacher to accommodate our progressive congregation now preaches from these versions, and there's nothing I can do about it (save to privately compare his sermons to my KJV.) Group fellow­ships and studies where the members participate are a different story, because there one may actually quote from a source (KJV) that “makes his soul enjoy good in his labour.” In practice, though, depending on who is leading the study or fellow­ship, this varies in difficulty from replacing fillings to pulling teeth.

In “Ikiru” the muckamucks took credit for the completed park, passing off all of Kanji's sacrificial efforts as the normal course of his duties. Similarly, in church the leaders, I find, credit them­selves not just for their leader­ship, but for the class participation and discussion, as well, in which case the engineering necessity of my contribution becomes a character flaw of heavy-handedness.

In “Ikiru” Kanji's comrades give lip service to his example, but that doesn't affect their work practice. In church we had a whole skit illustrating the quenching of the Spirit when a member speaks up. Many agreed with the message. Few there are who act on it.

Saddest are the elders who proffer a compromise of letting me read my KJV in places, then merely acquiesce while others read their modern versions in other places on the same topic in the same discussion. That's like the flash­back base­ball game where Kanji's son gets a solid hit then allows him­self to be trapped between the bases (“Out!”) The fans rightly called him an “Idiot!”

Ultimately, when I'm forced to endure modernized sermons, then have the Spirit quenched trying to quote the KJV in class—either that or accept some idiotic compromise—, and the fellow­ship on a whole is pretty earth­bound, then the church experience becomes one of pew-sitting; I might as well be a mummy as Kanji was for all the good I can make my soul enjoy in church. At which point my attendance takes a nose dive as did Kanji's. We're supposed to get some good out of our labor, and if it's not to be found in a current church or job, what's the point?

Production Values

This 1952 Japanese film, Ikiru (To Live) was co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. Other writers were Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni. It stars Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, and Shin'ichi Himori. Also starring were Nobuo Kaneko as Mitsuo Watanabe: Kanji's Son, Kyôko Seki as Kazue Watanabe: Mitsuo's Wife, Makoto Kobori as Kiichi Watanabe: Kanji's Brother, and Kumeko Urabe as Tatsu Watanabe: Kiichi's Wife. Shimura was the linch­pin of the plot, who gave a credible performance.

In 1952, films weren't rated per se, but they were voluntarily tame; this one, however, deals with the troubling theme of sickness and death. It doesn't mince words (or songs). The full length version is 143 minutes long. Asakazu Nakai shows him­self an accomplished cinema­tog­rapher. Music was by Fumio Hayasaka. The film was well crafted with a non-linear time­line. It had some great dance scenes in it to contrast with the feebleness of age. The main characters had enough distinguishing features that I, an occidental, could tell them apart.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

Ikiru” forces one to think about the brevity of life and how he wants to live it. The theme is what it is, and the film is well crafted if a bit long. It rates high on the list of greats.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children under advisement. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.