Akira Kurosawa films. He will always be remembered for the likes of samurai focused films like Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne Of Blood (1957) , The Hidden Fortress (1958) that inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars. Beyond the armour and swords, the Japanese film auteur created a little gem in 1952 that questions the meaning of life, Ikiru. 70 years later the beauty and melancholy of that film will once again grace our screens in the English language adaptation, Living.
South African film-maker Oliver Hermanus (Moffie) directs with award winning Japanese born British writer Kazu Ishiguro writing the script. Bill Nighy delights as our ‘salary man’ (Japanese term for business man) or civil servant in his next rite of passage. Asking the question “What would you do if you had six months left to live?”
You could also ask the same question if someone gave you life changing amount of money. Until it happens you may not know how to answer it properly, you might not even know how to answer it. When the end is nigh, do you want to answer it?
Ikiru and Living share near similar plots, set in 1950’s with Tokyo now replaced by London. The opening credits transports us back to the decade with archival footage from the streets of London. The credits design, the colours all reflect the decade, a world we’ve forgotten about or even a reflection. Some folks maybe also slightly surprise Hermanus didn’t go for a modern day setting. The film’s message could easily fit in any setting or decade, it’s universal.
Nighy plays Mr Williams. We don’t meet him first, we meet his comrades as they make their way to work at London’s County Hall. A Young Man starting his first day, Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp) like everyone else, smartly dressed from head to toe. From a bowler hat, Pin striped suit, umbrella and well mannered, they address everyone everyone Mister and Missus. On the journey the mythology, reputation of Mr Williams is born. Mr. Wakeling asks when will Mr Williams board the train? Next stop.
Early on we learn the respect of experience and status Mr Williams has. He is there boss, who has been following the same routines since day one. We learn of the bureaucracy of his workplace with the women of Chester Street who want a children’s playground. He now has to attend a routine doctor’s appointment when he receives devastating news. He has six months to live.
The softly spoken Mr Williams is now lost in reflection and the following day he decides to make good use of the time he has left. Heading to the seaside and he meets Mr Sutherland (Tom Burke) a writer of sleazy trash Shocking Stocking takes Mr Williams to town and show him what has missed. A debauched day and night of drink, gambling and Burlesque dancing. Back in London he crosses paths with former employee Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) who during lunch tells Mr Williams he has a nickname is Mr Zombie which he adores. As the clock ticks he starts to wonder could that final piece to his redemption could it be that playground in Chester Street?
Ikiru itself was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death Of Ivan Ilyich. From a classic novel to a film considered a masterpiece , it’s a brave but risky move . No disrespect to Hermanus, Living will probably be considered his biggest film to date. He has delivered. All thanks to Ishiguro’s script capturing the Post war elements of the story were similar to Japan’s of the time. Including the paperwork, red tape.
Bill Nighy is remarkable as Mr Williams. Very restrained performance, Nighy also captures the mood of the time even the politeness of the time. Even when he know his time was near. Aimee Lou Wood was also a delight as Miss Harris. Working in a world dominated by men in suits, giving that world a feminine touch. More importantly giving an old lonely man accompany in his final days. Living is a wonderful, exquisite uplifting film.
Drama | UK, 2022 | 12 | Blu-ray, DVD and Digital | 13th March 2023 (UK) | Lionsgate Films | Dir. Olivier Hermanus | Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke, Adrian Rawlins,