Just finished watching the last Kurosawa film before they aren’t free any more. Glad I bookended it the way I did. I started with my favorite, Ikiru (To Live), which is about an old bureaucrat who learns how to make an impact on the world at the end of his life, and I am ending with Madadayo (Not Yet), which is the story of the impact a professor has had on the lives around him. Both are beautiful films that explore our humanity through the juxtaposition of old men who are quite childlike in their own way. Both are generally befuddled, which comes off as charming, but Wantanabe-san is approaching the world with a new found hesitation because it all seems so strange to him. Uchida-sensei simply refuses to grow up because the world is so full of wonder. Ironically, for Uchida this makes him more afraid, his imagination often running him into corners, whereas for Wantanabe, it drives him and makes him determined to build something that can stand against the darkness, even when he’s been taken by it.
It also just occurred to me that both films end with children playing.
I have never seen Madadayo before, but I really love it. It’s the last film Kurosawa made and I wonder how much of himself he put into Uchida. He’s a silly old man with a lot of quirks, yet much beloved, always torn between the goodness of the people in his life and the wickedness of the world beyond his influence. Uchida literally makes existence around him wonderful just by being there, but is constantly reminded that he can’t make everyplace like that.
Either way, they were wonderful ways to frame an examination of the work of a certified genius. While I was disappointed that Hulu didn’t have Dreams, another film I love, it was great to rewatch his old samurai classics as well. But ultimately, it was Ikiru and Madadayo that spoke the loudest to me. They both addressed what it means to be human with one life to live and find purpose in. They both seem to say that we as people probably won’t change the world, but if we make a small bit of it better, then we can die knowing our life was well lived. Our legacies are small and often overlooked, but even unnoticed improvements make life more joyful for others.