Film Review

Living

todayJune 15, 2023 102

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Kazuo Ishiguro screenplays (in particular Remains of the Day), Bill Nighy, slow building films with big rewards

Every year I return to the snowy peaks of Park City to work and to recharge my cinematic battery.  Each year, there are a few films that re-establish my belief in the continued, artistic evolution of cinema and in a bigger way, my hopes for humanity.  These moments show me the interconnectedness of our species that moves beyond imaginary borders and reinforces the universality of our experiences.  These are emotional and vital moments for me.  In 2022, one of those experiences was viewing Living directed by South African Oliver Hermanos, adapted and written by Kazuo Ishiguro from the original Akira Kurosawa masterpiece Ikuru (which translates to “to live”), and starring in the performance of a lifetime, the acting virtuoso Bill Nighy.

Living makes a strong case for outsiders telling stories about specific cultures.  There are numerous examples of this including films directed by Werner Herzog, Billy Wilder, Ang Lee, and Alfred Hitchcock. In this case, it is post WWII London, with Bill Nighy portraying an aging bureaucrat who effectively has stopped living.  He receives a medical diagnosis which makes him re-examine his life and what his future will be.  Nighy brings a pathos that is undeniable to the role.  His mannerisms and the tones of his voice builds an astonishing performance that builds empathy and unbridled emotions in the audience.  His co-stars are up to the task of the work including Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret Harris, the youthful counterpoint and comrade to his development.  The cinematography of Jamie Ramsay presents a palate of vibrancy in color and movement.  

Many have tried and failed to adapt films that are canonical classics.  The works of Kurosawa definitely fall into this category.  His samurai films have particularly proven to be endless fodder for reinvention and adaptation.  Rashomon has gone on to inspire a whole section of psychological research.  Ikuru itself was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  Living gets to the heart of Kurosawa’s magical film.  It retains the spirit of the master and Ishiguro is the perfect interpreter.  His screenplay is majestic and gives the director, Hermanos, the foundation to expand even further with his own perceptions.

It is a film not just about legacy, but about how altruism and selflessness can overcome self-centeredness and destructive isolation.  Reduced to a simple premise, it can be summarized that helping others helps oneself.  A simple idea, but one that is lost on most.  It is so rewarding when a work of art can remind us of this morality and inspire us to replicate it in our own lives.  After viewing it, my work at Sundance immediately improved.  I was more helpful and understanding of others.  It is this inspiration to connect that makes this film so powerful, and ultimately why I will always want to return to the cold environs of Utah each January. 

Available now to stream on Netflix

Written by: Gareth Jones

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