Some say that AK got the inspiration to make this move from Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” but I don’t see much similarity between the protagonists.
Kanji Watanabe (played admirably by Takashi Shimura) is a typical Govt. bureaucrat who has not taken a single day of leave for 30 years. He works methodically and is a strict section head. The movie is set in the period just after the 2nd World War when Japan was trying to recover from the after effects. Everything is bureaucratic especially in government circles and the movie begins with a group of working class women complaining of a mosquito problem created by a small pool in the area. The complaint remains unattended as various departments pass the hot potato along.
Kanji Watanabe is diagnosed with stomach cancer but the doctor does not tell him. The hospital scene where a fellow patient describes the disease to Watanabe and the fearful expressions on Watanabe face is admirably shot. Suddenly Watanabe realizes how he has wasted his life on others especially his son who is only after Watanabe’s retirement benefits. He decides to enjoy his life and suddenly goes on a hiatus from office and home. Watanabe meets a person in a bar who is a novelist and when the novelist says that “It’s our human duty to enjoy life” they both go out and indulge in making merry including visits to bordellos. Fully drunk he sings his old favorite song. “Life is short, fall in love, maidens….” With the pianist in the rear and people dancing and sad expressions of the novelist and Watanabe, I consider this one of the most moving scenes I have ever come across in world cinema. However the merry making does not fulfill Watanabe’s inner desire of doing something concrete and then he meets his young office girl who has just resigned and waiting for Watanabe’s approval. Watanabe agree to approve provided she goes out with him. They both go out on restaurants hopping and Watanabe seeing that she has a torn stocking buys her a new pair. They go a hotel where there is a birthday party going on and the guests are singing “happy birthday to you” in the background with close ups of Watanabe. Then Watanabe realizes what he should do. He resumes duty and calls for the file of women’s complaint. He drives various departments, in the process becoming a hated figure to the deputy mayor but he doesn’t care. He exclaims “I can’t afford to hate people”.
Watanabe dies after converting local area into a children’s park. At around 01:32:00 the movie could have ended, but it continues with the funeral scene of Watanabe where people in various departments including Deputy Mayor discuss and argues whether Watanabe deserves credit to what he has done. After several rounds of arguments, visit by the local ladies and the police man who sees Watanabe last singing his favorite song in snowing park conclude that despite suffering from cancer, Watanabe did a selfless act and it should be a moral lesson to all of them.
Top class acting by Takashi Shimura.
Whisky comparison- Yoichi 25 yo, 62%, OB for LMdW