“…if only to be alive like that for one day.”
Story: London, 1953. Mr. Williams is the head of the Public Works Department in London. He’s spent his entire life plodding along, raising his son alone, going from day to day with little to no joie de vivre. But when he’s diagnosed with a cancer that threatens to end his life in less than six months, he tries to figure out how to make the best of what little life, and living, he has left.
Genre I’d put it in: Remakes Worth Watching
Release Date: 2022 (limited) – wide release 2023
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the classic film Ikiru (“To Live”) by the one and only Akira Kurusowa, which itself is based on the classic story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy.
Gotta say: Yeah, this is another one of those “we rEleAseD it last year (in like seven theaters) for 2022 award traction but you couldn’t really see it ’til now” kinda joints. But I’m counting it as a 2023 movie, because I didn’t get to Sundance last year – or this year ONE DAY Y’ALL – and as far as I’m concerned? Wide release = year of release. That’s my hill that I’m dying on. Anyway, I didn’t even know this film existed ’til this month (January, 2023 for anyone reading this in the futurefuturefuture) and my first thought was not a positive one. Okay, kind of positive, because Bill Nighy OWNS. But after I realized that this is a remake/adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru? I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach. Y’know, the feeling you get when a TV show decides to add a quirky toddler to the cast to “freshen things up”. Yeah, I wasn’t hopeful. But after watching Living? I’m all in.
Is it as good as Kurosawa? DO NOT BLASPHEME TO ME YOUNG ONE. No one can touch the great one. But is it a good adaptation of Ikiru? Absolutely. Just don’t ask me if it’s a good adaptation of Tolstoy’s story; I don’t read Russian literature. It’s too hard for my smol brainparts. Living takes the bones of the original film, and sets things in London rather than Tokyo. Both cities shared a kind of rebirth in the early Fifties, after WWII air strikes. (Obviously, one city more than the other, but you get my gist, yes? Good.) So in both stories, there’s a gritty realism along with a longing for better things that will hopefully come. There’s echoes of the themes Kurosawa focuses on, such as the mindless bureaucracy of The State that ultimately helps no-one, the disintegration of the family after WWII, and, of course, what it means to live and to be truly alive. Living doesn’t pack as much of a punch as Ikiru, but it’s a beautiful, poignant film on it’s own.
Much of that poignancy can be credited to Nighy’s brilliant performance. He lets you see how Williams was, to misquote Pink Floyd, comfortably numb in his occupation and his private life. Nighy also lets us have a peek at the bewilderment and longing Williams has regarding a life well lived and enjoyed. Aimee Lou Wood’s Margaret (“Miss Harris” to Williams) helps him see another way to look at things, thanks to her youth and exuberance. Margaret is a mirror for Ikiru’s Toyo, who leaves the place of employment she’d shared with the main character, in order to live a fuller life doing something more worthy of her skills. There are differences between the characters arcs and their outlooks on life, but Wood ably embodies Williams’ muse. So too do the “gentlemen” that Williams and Wood worked with; their apathy at their situation and short-lived epiphanies are delivered with a believable lack of sentiment, thanks to the talents of this ensemble.
Should you watch Living? I think so, at least if you’re the kind of movie person who’s into well told stories, no matter how the story gets told. Again, as with Kurosawa’s original, Living plays around with chronology and POV as the story unfolds, giving us just enough information to want to find out what these character have in store in the next scene. Though the plot and where it’s headed are laid out rather succinctly from the jump, this is definitely a film where the journey is worth the trip. Meanwhile, I want to go to Fortnum & Mason for tea. Fine, for that absolutely incredible looking ice cream sundae. I’m a woman of simple pleasures, y’all.
#Protip: Please don’t sleep on Ikiru. Personal favor to me. Watch that one too.