“He might as well be a corpse. In fact, this man has been dead for more than twenty years now.”
Said the narrator in Akira Kurosawa’s masterful ‘Ikiru’ (1952). ‘Ikiru’ (English title: ‘To Live’) tells a story of Kanji Watanabe (played by the ever-brilliant Takashi Shimura), an arduous workaholic who spends his days stamping forms and signing paperwork, as he completely immerses himself as a cog in Japan’s post-war bureaucracy. He seems perfectly content with it (though one can argue he’s been institutionalized) that is, until a piece of news arrives.
I remember seeing ‘Ikiru’ for the first time when I was 17. With ‘Seven Samurai’ still wondering in mind, I was curious what else Akira Kurosawa had to offer with this non-samurai drama. I made up my mind before I was going to delve into this man’s cinematic repertoire but given how large it is, it was a daunting task. But I thought I had to see this one, and I adored it. It was a touching examination life and the futility of time if wasted. Takashi Shimura was imposing and the cast pitch-perfect. It’s a fantastic movie all-around.
Having recently revisited in adulthood though, I do start to wonder if I did “get” this movie this first time around. I understood the essence of Kanji’s plight, and his strive for meaning and his attempt to make up for past mistakes as time catches up to him, but I never really understood the meaning and feeling of it. I just took it at face value. After all, I was still a naïve teenager back then.
But now, having had the experience myself of being wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape, along with the suffocating boredom that comes with it, Kanji’s situation does give an additional perspective. I can feel his situation and desire for redemption as the movie moved along felt more engaging as a result. Kurosawa’s resentment towards the abuse of the karosha (Japanese Salarymen) at the expense of their personal growth and happiness in the name of economic growth was loud and clear, and its ever-present relevance is a testament to this movie’s timelessness.
‘Ikiru’ displays one of the most life-affirming stories in cinema, a masterpiece that will inspire self-reflection. The film shows that only with the realization of how brief life is that we will begin to live, and Kurosawa cannot be more correct.
Albeit David Graeber’s concept of “bullshit jobs” was conceived very recently, Kurosawa had depicted the meaninglessness of bureaucrat jobs in 1952. I had an interesting voyage visiting the life of Mr. Watanabe and his existential crisis following a dubious verdict on his death. Ikiru is perhaps my favourite work of Kurosawa, and it is anything but impoverished in meanings.
But out of any other takes, I would like to highlight the interesting roles women occupy in this movie.
Kurosawa sure portrayed women richly in his movies. His portrayal might not necessarily be feminist, but it was always honest. From romance to war, I found it realistic irrespective of his intentions. In ‘Rashomon’, a woman’s account of her rape isn’t believed. In ‘One Wonderful Sunday‘, we see a woman with her traditional roles in relations to her husband. Even in ‘The Most Beautiful’, women fill nearly the entirety of the movie with their labour, be it seen or unseen labour.
In particular, the women in ‘Ikiru‘ quietly become the revelation that Mr. Watanabe needs badly in his life. Local women’s complaint regarding the park is introduced in the first scene of the movie, which later portends Mr. Watanabe’s epiphany. A young woman also embodies his ideals about liveliness and fervour for life that piques his curiosity and invites a gossip. The perpetrators of the rumour? His maid and his daughter-in-law. Of course, the men from his office also partake in this little sin, but unlike the women, they are portrayed to be rather bland and indistinguishable from each other. To me, they are nameless and replaceable.
Clearly I do not argue that the movie is in any way feminist for it lacks the political positioning to be labelled as such, but it produces interesting takes of women in this banal world indeed.To do the movie justice, obviously it is not enough to analyse it from women’s point of view. A lot have been said about Ikiru‘s strength in depicting one’s efforts in seeking after the meaning of life, and I eschew redundancy. My last takeaway would be to thank Kurosawa for salvaging the besmirched image of bureaucracy works, because despite general contempt against governments, I still think that public works are important and potentially meaningful. At least, the public sector is given a positive light which it truly deserves.
Roman karya Nano Riantiarno ini merupakan novelisasi dari pentas Teater Koma yang berjudul sama, “Primadona”. Ceritanya sendiri berpusat pada persaingan antara dua grup opera di Batavia tahun 1925, opera “Miss Ketjoeboeng” dengan opera “Gardanella”. Kisah yang disajikan penuh dengan intrik antar dua grup opera dalam memperebutkan reputasi untuk menjadi yang terbaik. Bajak membajak para pemain hingga pergi ke paranormal pun dilakukan. Fenomena ini tentu sangat tidak asing di telinga kita yang hidup di budaya yang masih akrab dengan superstisi bahkan sampat saat ini.
Saya memiliki sentimen tertentu terhadap literatur dengan set yang dibuat di tempat-tempat bersejarah seperi Batavia pada awal Abad 20. Dari gedung opera yang berlokasi di Passer Gambir, Wilhelmina Park hingga Harmonie. Nama-nama tokohnya pun merefleksikan nama-nama di era Batavia 1920an: Kedjora, Rama Ombara serta nama-nama opera yang dimainkan seperti Djoela-djoeli Bintang Kedjora, Poetri Cina dan Djin Parzee.
Karena buku ini merupakan sebuah kisah roman seperti layaknya ‘Kasih tak Sampai’, maka bersiaplah untuk menghadapi emosi yang naik turun seperti layaknya sensasi Jet Coaster. Menilik lebih jauh, kisah di buku ini sepertinya terinspirasi kisah nyata persaingan antara opera “Dardanella” dan opera “Miss Riboet’s Orion” di Batavia pada era yang sama. Nama-nama tokohnya pun mirip dengan kisah nyatanya. Muatan sejarah budayanya yang kuat mengingatkan saya akan pentas Roaring 20’s nun jauh di Broadway sana. Sayangnya saya belum sempat untuk menonton pentasnya yang sepertinya menarik karena dibuat secara musikal ala Broadway.
Di masa sulit seperti ini, ketika pergerakan dan interaksi sosial kita menjadi sangat terbatas, untaian kata-kata pada buku dapat membawa kita ke dunia luar. Tak hanya itu, keseharian yang relatif statis secara visual , dapat berubah seperti fantasi yang digambarkan pada buku yang kita baca. Dalam kasus ini, saya dibawa ke luar, mengarungi fantasi di Batavia tahun 1925.
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