Writes Roger Ebert: The old man knows he is dying of cancer. In a bar, he tells a stranger he has money to spend on a ``really good time,'' but doesn't know how to spend it.
The stranger takes him out on the town, to gambling parlors, dance halls and the red light district, and finally to a bar where the piano player calls for requests and the old man, still wearing his overcoat and hat, asks for "Life Is Short--Fall in Love, Dear Maiden."
"Oh, yeah, one of those old '20s songs," the piano man says, but he plays it, and then the old man starts to sing. His voice is soft and he scarcely moves his lips, but the bar falls silent, the party girls and the drunken salary men drawn for a moment into a reverie about the shortness of their own lives.
This moment comes near the center point of "Ikiru," Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film about a bureaucrat who works for 30 years at Tokyo City Hall and never accomplishes anything. Mr. Watanabe has become the chief of his section, and sits with a pile of papers on either side of his desk, in front of shelves filled with countless more documents. Down a long table on either side of him, his assistants shuffle these papers back and forth. Nothing is ever decided. His job is to deal with citizen complaints, but his real job is to take a small rubber stamp and press it against each one of the documents, to show that he has handled it.
The opening shot of the film is an X-ray of Watanabe's chest. "He has gastric cancer, but doesn't yet know it," says a narrator. "He just drifts through life. In fact, he's barely alive."
The X-ray fades into his face--into the sad, tired, utterly common face of the actor Takashi Shimura, who in 11 films by Kurosawa and many by others, played an everyman who embodied his characters by not seeming to embody anything at all.
There is a frightening scene in his doctor's office, where another patient chatters mindlessly; he is a messenger of doom, describing Watanabe's precise symptoms and attributing them to stomach cancer. "If they say you can eat anything you want," he says, "that means you have less than a year." When the doctor uses the very words that were predicted, the old bureaucrat turns away from the room, so that only the camera can see him, and he looks utterly forlorn.
The Complete Review Here. http://www.rogerebert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19960929/REVIEWS08/401010329/1023