Yesterday I realized that it was the last day Kurosawa’s 1952 movie Ikiru (To Live) would be showing at the Film Forum, so I dashed down after work and saw it. I knew it was considered one of his best, but I didn’t realize it was going to wind up on my short list of Greatest Movies Ever Made (along with Rules of the Game and Mirror and A Brighter Summer Day… but that’s a list for another entry). Takashi Shimura gives the performance of a lifetime as a government bureaucrat who’s been effectively dead for twenty years and only learns to live when he discovers his time is about to run out. The scene in which a dissolute writer shows him how to carouse and spend money rivals the “Nighttown” episode of Ulysses, and his drunken basso profundo rendering of “Life is Short” (“that old song from the teens,” ie, from the days when he was courting his long-dead wife) silences the nightclub and lacerates the viewer’s heart. Since this is Languagehat, I should provide the lyrics:

Inochi mijikashi
Koi se yo otome
Akaki kuchibiru
Asenu ma ni
Atsuki chishio no
Hienu ma ni
Asu no tsukihi wa
Nai mono wo

(“Life is short; fall in love, young maiden, before the colour in those crimson lips fades, before that passionate blood turns cold—for there is no tomorrow.”)
But my appreciation for the movie is influenced by a couple of extraneous factors. For one thing, the movie shows the time and place in which I spent my earliest years, which may add to its effect on me. And for another, a hat is one of the main characters; in fact, I consider it a travesty that it did not win a Best Supporting Actor award.

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