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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Japanese PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary from 2004 by Stephen Prince, author of The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
  • A Message from Akira Kurosawa (2000), a ninety-minute documentary produced by Kurosawa Productions and featuring interviews with Kurosawa
  • Documentary on Ikiru from 2003, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create, and featuring interviews with Kurosawa, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, writer Hideo Oguni, actor Takashi Shimura, and others
  • Trailer

Ikiru

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Kyoko Seki, Makoto Kobori, Kumeko Urabe, Yoshie Minami, Miki Odagiri, Kamatari Fujiwara
1952 | 143 Minutes | Licensor: Toho Co.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #221
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: November 24, 2015
Review Date: December 1, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

One of the greatest achievements by Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru presents the director at his most compassionate—affirming life through an exploration of death. Takashi Shimura (Rashomon) beautifully portrays Kanji Watanabe, an aging bureaucrat with stomach cancer who is impelled to find meaning in his final days. Presented in a radically conceived two-part structure and shot with a perceptive, humanistic clarity of vision, Ikiru is a multifaceted look at what it means to be alive.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion upgrades Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru to Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new high-definition presentation, taken from a new 4K scan of a 35mm fine-grain master positive (the negative no longer exists), is delivered here in 1080p/24hz.

Criterion’s original DVD has aged fairly well in terms of its transfer: compression is decent (for the format) and the level of detail can be fairly impressive. Its primary limitation was the source, which was still littered with scratches and heavy stains, including mold. This new presentation cleans up a lot of that and this aspect is the most noticeable improvement over the old DVD. Fine vertical scratches and some other marks remain but they’re fairly miniscule and not all that distracting. On the whole the restoration work has been far more thorough.

The digital transfer also offers a noticeable improvement. Though the DVD still doesn’t look too bad, the Blu-ray’s look is far more natural and clean. Compression is far better (as one would hope for a Blu-ray in comparison to a DVD) and the image is clearly more filmic. Contrast looks to be a bit better and gray levels nicely transition, while black levels look fairly deep while keeping decent details in the shadows. The image is also consistently sharp and crisp, at least when the source allows it: a handful of softer scenes look to be limited by the material.

Though there are still some noticeable issues with the source, the restoration work has been far more thorough and the transfer is significantly more filmic and natural.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The Japanese mono track is presented in lossless linear PCM. It unfortunately still shows its age, but it could be far worse. It’s flat and a little tinny, with some audible background noise, but it’s still faint enough. Dialogue sounds to be clear, but music can be a little on the edgy side.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Everything looks to make it over from the old 2-disc DVD, starting with an audio commentary by Stephen Prince. Prince does a great job going over the narrative construction, how Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Russian literature influenced Kurosawa, and how Hideo Oguni was able to reign in the sentiment that Kurosawa probably would have went with full force if Oguni didn’t help with the story. I was also rather fascinated by a small portion of the track devoted to censorship in Japan at the time, with Ikiru being made just after that was all eased (this allowed Kurosawa to criticize the various bureaucracies that popped up after the war). But where I found the commentary most invaluable was just in his offering of historical and social context. He calls the film an excellent snapshot of postwar Japan, and he gives context to the various actions and reactions from the many characters, and explains the one aspect I was always most confused about before listening to the track originally: why the doctors don’t actually tell the protagonist he has terminal cancer (and the reason seems absolutely crazy, even if it is with best intentions). I enjoy Prince’s tracks and this is another strong one that was great to listen to again.

Criterion then includes two documentaries. A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Movies is an 81-minute documentary produced in 2000, offering a fairly thorough look at how the filmmaker works, right from the early stages of planning (writing, storyboarding, designs, etc.) to the final construction of the finished film. Interestingly Ikiru isn’t mentioned in this and most of the documentary focuses on his later films, Madadayo seeming to get more love. Still, it’s a wonderful examination into his working method and an excellent inclusion here.

The final documentary is another episode pulled from the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create. This 41-minute piece is a making-of covering the production of Ikiru. Like other pieces in the series it’s a fairly thorough overview of the production, complete with interviews—new and archived—from members of the cast and crew, including with Kurosawa himself. It’s an engaging look at the production, though nothing too surprising is revealed, and Prince covers a bit in the commentary. Still, I found it worth viewing.

The disc closes with the film’s theatrical trailer, while the insert also includes the same excerpt on the film from Donald Richie’s book The Films of Akira Kurosawa. Criterion also adds a new essay by author Pico Iyer, who writes about his first experience with the film in 1987 after first moving to Japan, and then revisiting it recently and how he sees it now in comparison. He even points out how doctors still have an issue telling patients they have a terminal disease.

Other than the one essay there’s nothing new, but the few supplements we get are all quite good and I enjoyed going through them.

7/10

CLOSING

The supplements are the same, nothing new added other than one essay found in the insert, but the new presentation, taken from a new 4K restoration, makes this upgrade worth it and a clear winner for those that have yet to pick up the film. Highly recommended.


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