Unlike the previous two Kurosawa films I saw, this one doesn't set in ancient Japan, nor does it have any samurai in it. The modern setting (or as modern as it was back in 1950's) tells a story of an old man Kanji Wantanabe, played by Kurosawa's favourite leading man Takashi Shimura, who after spending most of his life working as the chief clerk in the city hall's Public Affairs department, finds out he has stomach cancer and only 6 months left to live. A lifelong miser and a widower who raised his only son by himself, Wantanabe has long lost his place in life while trying to keep his place at work, and that is, by doing nothing at all. The impending death makes he realize how he's wasted his life away in the dusty, files-piling office, and not wanting to die without having lived, he goes on an internal journey to search for the life's meaning.
"To Live" is a powerful existential film about the meaning of life and of happiness. It asks the questions of what makes one happy and what makes life worth living, the questions we all ask ourselves at one time or the other. The journey of Wantanabe to find the answers to those questions is a heart-rending one, and yet it is honest and powerful. The conflicting and ambivalent emotions of sadness, despair, desperation and hope make the film an emotionally wrought experience. However, the movie is also full of laughters, just like life is full of amusing ironies. There are haunting moments such as when Wantanabe sings the song about life's brevity, and there are moments of absolute hilarity as in the scene at the hospital with "the guy of doom." The film also portrays poignantly the Japanese bureaucracy, which in turn symbolizes a society full of bureaucratic "mummies" whose objective in life is to make sure that they don't do anything out of line. The lead actor Takashi Shimura does an amazing job portraying "the mummy." He personifies the loneliness and despair of a man whose life has been a big nothing; there is an innocence and a wonder to his pain and suffering and to his reawakening, as if he was a newborn baby learning to walk for the first time.
The film provides some great insights into life as well as human nature, but most importantly, it will move you the way only a powerful piece of art can move you. Wantanabe's journey "to live" is an unforgettable one, and an inspiring one. Does he find that meaning of life and happiness in the end? It's for you to find out. Either way, you'll definitely find something to think about in this terrific film.