This reviewer had a lot to say about Ikiru, Akira Kurosawa, and the quality of acting in Kurosawa movies:
This review continues my recent assault on particular cinematic themes that annoy me incessantly, and therefore require a therapeutic purging via an extensive (and scathing) IMDb review. The topic in question here is Akira Kurosawa - hereafter referred to as the "lesser" Kurosawa, primarily because when one hears the name Kurosawa one should immediately think of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who is superior in almost every respect to this "lesser" Kurosawa, a director artificially propped up on an undeserving pedestal by a group of disillusioned followers. Sure, he had one solid film in Seven Samurai (1954), but every time I see his other movies I wonder how the hell anyone could think that this guy was a great director. It befuddles me, even though I am a huge fan of other directors from the same time period.
My primary problem with the "lesser" Kurosawa is his indisputable ability of getting the absolute worst out of his actors and actresses. In Ran (1985) Tatsuya Nakadai (who played Lord Hidetora) contributes a series of embarrassingly overacted moments during any and all scenes where strong emotion is required. In Hidden Fortress (1958) Misa Uehara (Princess Yuki) gives one of the worst performances of the 1950s. Even Toshiro Mifune had a truly ineptly performance in Rashomon (1950). In Dreams (1991) almost everyone stinks the place out. Ikiru (1952) continues the track record for this "lesser" Kurosawa, because Takashi Shimura (who plays Kanji Watanabe) is quite simply horrible in this film. He basically has three modes of facial expression:
1. Wimpering Crybaby Mode. 2. Sad Puppy Dog Mode. 3. Hallucinogenic Mode.
I'll leave it to the viewer to identify the specific instances where each of these modes are employed by Shimura, but I simply cannot help but comment on #2 above. During Sad Puppy Dog phases, Shimura's face lengthens and his eyes bug-out to make even fruit-flies jealous. Basically, he looks like a 3-year-old after being scolded, not a person of sufficient maturity enduring pain or suffering. He doesn't react to situations like any grown man would. In fact, the Watanabe character is so devoid of basic humanity that he comes off as a stand-in for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I'm not kidding when I say that Shimura's facial expressions make Ikiru both unintentionally hilarious and infuriating. I literally wanted to strike him with a blunt object or stick needles in his eyes just so he'd stop staring pathetically at me through my television screen.
This whole situation ruins the entire film. The crux is that even a mediocre director should have prevented this by instructing Shimura appropriately. This "lesser" Kurosawa was apparently incapable of understanding the concept of "overacting", so he let Shimura ham it up for 140 minutes. You can almost hear this "lesser" Kurosawa behind the camera:
"You're a puppy dog, Takashi. You're a puppy dog. Show me those puppy dog eyes!"
It's no wonder why George Lucas found "inspiration" from the "lesser" Kurosawa's works, since Lucas practically perfected the "art" of getting the absolute worst out of his actors, regardless of how good they perform when not under the "influence" of good ole George.
Like many of the other works by this director, Ikiru is about an hour too long. Watching Watanabe go clubbing for 60 minutes was totally unnecessary. The very thin premise was stretched out for so long that I was reminded of Peter Jackson, who needed 600 minutes to tell one of the most basic, formulaic stories in the history of cinema. The "lesser" Kurosawa could have trimmed the first half, but in all honesty it would have only made this agonizing cinematic experience shorter, not better. Since the lead protagonist had the reason and intellect of a 3-year-old, there wasn't much in the way of potential development, and what little occurs comes from out of nowhere. The entire maturity of Watanabe is expressed in a segment spanning a few measly minutes, when he goes to work with zeal and runs out the front door to help the people. Kurosawa - in his infinite stupidity - then chooses to cut the sequence off completely, only to then shoot ahead half a year in time to show a bunch of politicians reminiscing about Watanabe's tasks for 45 minutes. There is simply no way that the viewer can relate to the revelatory happiness of the main character through the third-person conversations of characters that had a combined screen time of only a few minutes previously. It's a total miscalculation on the part of the director who takes the cheap way out with an abhorrently overrated "swing" scene in the snow. Yes, the scene is pretty, but it simply cannot substitute for a lack of character development that essentially occupies 5 total minutes out of a 140-minute film. And no, I refuse to count 30 minutes of puppy dog glances as character development.
The mediocrity of this much-loved "lesser" Kurosawa is even more evident in the fact that other, greatly superior dramatic directors like Yasujiro Ozu were making fantastic films like Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953) - films that make Ikiru (1952) look like amateur hour at best, because they have everything lacking in this film - great acting, storyline, and character development with believable, realistic performances. It's a travesty that exceptional directors like Ozu must live in the shadows of a lesser director that was lucky enough to be admired by a few tasteless Californian bloodsuckers.
It's almost humorous that the "lesser" Kurosawa came out with Ikiru in the time period in-between Ozu's films mentioned above. We can safely call this a crap sandwich.
To be fair, the same reviewer reluctantly admitted in his High and Low review (which he also didn't like) that he wouldn't necessarily classify Kurosawa as "a no-talent assclown."