Ikiru (To Live)

Ikiru is poignant and directly profound through contemplating life’s meaning in Watanabe’s dealings with mortality. Watanabe is an old-aged bureaucrat whose life was obsessed with work until discovering he has terminal cancer. Whereas Ikiru takes its time in reaching Watanabe’s revelation of his terminal cancer, audiences are told at the beginning. Audiences being aware of this made Watanabe’s mundane office environment extremely bleak. Firstly Watanabe and his colleges are unresponsive at a joke by a younger, immature employee and a montage of citizens being moved around from department to department regarding their queries. Ikiru firmly establishes Watanabe’s routine occupation as somber which is emphasised in Watanabe’s acknowledgement of his terminal cancer, that he had wasted his adult life.

Ikiru‘s theme of morality became significance in Watanabe’s reactions to his impending death. He rejects his bureaucrat duties and becomes engaged with his human desires. Wantanabe disappears for days at a time drinking and reminiscing about his past as one memorable scene showed him singing an old love ballad to the stunned silence of those around him, reflecting Wantanabe’s realisation towards death. Watanabe also becomes infatuated with Toyo, a younger employee through her quirkiness giving him revived senses of youthfulness. Yet this soon flames out only emphasises Watanabe’s loss of time. These scenes in Ikiru relate to Watanabe’s notion of “a protest of my life up to now” provoking internal questions of morality and one’s use in life.

From protesting his life to giving it meaning, Watanabe becomes the catalyst for long-standing plan for a children’s park which had previously been ignored by his department. Watanabe’s determined vest to complete the park before his death continued to emphasis Ikiru‘s profound message regarding life. Once Watanabe has passed on and his achievements are recognised, his former co-workers say “compared to Watanabe we’re just trash”, consolidating Ikiru‘s profoundness for life. It is this message which audiences should take away from Ikiru.

Throne of Blood (1957)

A re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in feudal Japan, Throne of Blood visually captured the play’s self-seeking and treacherous atmosphere whereas its characterisation is somewhat left to be desired.

General Washizu and his comrade Miki come across an evil spirit who prophecies their rise with Washizu becoming Master of the North Castle and Miki will be Fort Commander. The evil spirit concludes that Washizu will eventually become Lord of Cobweb Castle, and that Miki’s son will succeed Washizu. Washizu and Miki are understandably puzzled by the evil spirits’ prophecy and initially disregards them. However Washizu with his wife Asaji become obsessed with the prophecy, leading to violent greed and malicious manipulation. Considering the heinous themes within Throne of Blood, one would expect the performances through characterisation to be riveting. Unfortunately the performances were mostly sub-par incorporating little depth to their characterisations. The performances felt as if they were being read from the script and using over-emphasised facial expressions simply because they had to. Even Toshiro Mifune’s (Washizu) performance was mostly underwhelming. His performance gave little to establish reasons for Washizu’s inevitable lust for greed and murderous desire. It is only when Washizu becomes haunted by those he’s killed that Mifune’s performance improved capturing Washizu’s mental derangement. Isuzu Yamada as Asaji gave the only consistent performance. Asaji’s subdued expressions and cold-hearted tone influencing Washizu personified her character which Yamada fully understood.

Throne of Blood‘s strength lied in its visual representation. The opening sequence contained ominous music which was unsettling emphasised through misty surroundings where Cobweb Castle once stood, creating a mysterious tone relevant for the themes which followed. The visual representation was emphasised in various well-choreographed military scenes of enthralling action along with Washizu’s climatic death scene directed with hallowing silence and long shots to encapsulate excruciating repercussions. Throne of Blood was a film that faired better in visually conveying its themes rather than personifying them through characters. However that is not to say Throne of Blood did not well adapted the origins of Shakespeare’s play and in that sense its visual representation was an acceptable substitute for flaws in characterisation.