Science of the Social Credit Measured in Terms of Human Satisfaction
Christian based service movement warning about threats to rights and freedom irrespective of the label, Science of the Social Credit Measured in Terms of Human Satisfaction

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"
Edmund Burke

Science of the Social Credit Measured in Terms of Human Satisfaction

Resurrection: Kurosawa's Ikiru

March 2005

Ikiru (1952, 143 minutes) is one of Kurosawa's most famous films. The title means "To Live," and it is the story of a man who finds out he has terminal cancer.

The Story

Kanji Watanabe (played by Takashi Shimura) is chief of the Citizens Section in the city government. At the front window is a notice saying, "This window is here for you. It is your link with the City Hall. We welcome both requests and complaints." A group of women are standing at the window. They have come with the complaint that there is a stinking, mosquito-infested sump in their neighborhood and the request that it be drained and turned into a children's park. The clerk confers with Watanabe and gives them his answer: they should go to the Public Works Section. Watanabe never even looks up from the papers he is carefully stamping. His brow is pinched. He takes a pill. A narrator tells us that Watanabe has been a corpse for the past twenty-five years, but all this is about to change.

Death-in-life begins with the Great Lie, and we see it first right here in the Citizens Section, whose real work is to avoid citizens. Its name is a lie, its sign is a lie, and the pretence of the office personnel is a lie. It is like "The Emperor's New Clothes" -- an unspoken agreement to lie to themselves and to one another.

The only living person in the office is a girl named Toyo. We are introduced to her when her laughter suddenly disturbs the tomblike silence in which they do their work. She is forced to stand up and read the joke aloud: "You've never had a day off, have you?" "No." "Why? Are you indispensable?" "No, I just don't want them to find out they can do without me." This joke tells the truth, so of course no one else thinks it's funny.

We see the group of women passed on from one department to another: Parks, Health, Sanitation, Environment, Epidemics, Pest Control, Sewage, Roads, Planning, Fire, Education, the City Councilor, and finally the Deputy Mayor upstairs, who praises their initiative and says that's why he's established a Citizens Section! They actually return to the Citizens Section, where the same clerk, without looking up, sends them to Public Works again. Finally (a westerner would not have taken this long) they lose their tempers; and the clerk, to placate them, tells them they can submit a written petition.

Watanabe is unaccountably absent that day, the first time in thirty years. He has gone to the hospital to get the results of a stomach x-ray. A man in the waiting room tells him the doctors don't tell you if you have cancer, they say it's ulcers, no operation is necessary, and you can eat what you want. The doctor tells Watanabe exactly that. Watanabe begs the doctor to tell him the truth, but does he deserve it? Isn't the doctor treating him exactly like he treated the women's group? If he were to tell them the truth, he would have to say: "Your project is hopeless. The city is never going to do anything about it!" So the Great Lie is here in the hospital, too. As at the office, it's all about keeping up appearances. After he leaves the room, we learn he has six months at most.

Watanabe's son Mitsuo and daughter-in-law, who live with him, arrive home to find the house dark. We immediately see what worthless people they are, scheming, petty, and superficial. They malign the housekeeper unjustly, complain about the house itself, then start planning to build a Western-style house with Watanabe's money and how they will force him to give it -- when they suddenly realize he is sitting there in the dark, in their room. They know he heard every word, but they say nothing, and he doesn't confront them. So the Great Lie is here, too.

Faced with death, Watanabe had felt a longing for his son, and that is why he was sitting in the dark in his room. Back in his own room downstairs, he opens the shrine of his dead wife. His mind flashes back to the funeral motorcade and his little boy. His reverie is broken by his son's calling him. His son needs him! He starts up the stairs, but Mitsuo only wants him to lock up. In further flashbacks, he remembers a Little League game, an appendectomy, and then a train taking Mitsuo off to the war. As his son disappears in the distance, he calls in his mind, "Mitsuo! Mitsuo! Mitsuo!"

He winds up his alarm clock but drops it, hides under the covers and weeps. On the wall we see his letter of commendation for twenty-five years' faithful service. Twenty-five years of self-burial. All this time he never helped one citizen, and the son that was the real object of this self-immurement is a son to be ashamed of.

Next night he uncharacteristically goes to a bar and there meets a hack writer, to whom Watanabe reveals he is dying. He says he has money and would like to have a night on the town but doesn't know how. He says, "I'd thought of ending it all, but it's hard to die. And I can't die just yet. I don't know what I've been living for all these years." The man "Having cancer has made you want to taste life. . . . The greed to live is a virtue." He says, "Put your money away, I'll treat."

They start with pinball and work their way up through music and dance clubs to strip tease to a pair of prostitutes. Watanabe buys a new hat, a white one. At one place he requests a song, "Life Is So Short." Couples begin to dance to the old tune, but when the old man begins to sing it in his hoarse voice with tears streaming down his face, it is too horrible, and they stop. I don't know how to describe music, but to me the tune has the same feel as "Edelweiss." The words are as follows:

Life is so short,
Fall in love, dear maiden,
While your lips are still red;
Before you can no longer love –
For there will be no tomorrow.

Life is so short,
Fall in love, dear maiden,
While your hair is still black.
Before the fire in your heart dies down –
For there will be no more tomorrow.

In the taxi one of the prostitutes, "I hate gloomy people. Come on, let's sing something nice and gay." So the pair start singing (in English), "Come on 'a my house, come on 'a my house." Even the writer feels the horror of this.

The next thing we see it is day, and Toyo calls Watanabe in the street and runs up to him. She is bursting with innocent life and love, so animated, big smile, laughing eyes, a being constantly in motion (a wonderful performance by Miki Odagiri). She has sought him out because she wants to quit her job, because the atmosphere is stifling to her. His seal is at his house, so he says, "Come to my house then" – a neat echo contrasting this scene with the previous one.

The night on the town was still a step up from where Watanabe was before, for he started as a corpse. His venture into the club district was like a voyage into strange, uncharted territory; and unlike most people, it took Watanabe only one night to get past it. He is going to cover a lot of ground in two weeks.

At his house, he miserably confesses to Toyo his feeling of chronic futility and boredom at the office. But instead of being infected with his misery, Toyo is tickled. She seizes his hand and shakes it like they are partners: who could resist? The form she has brought is the wrong one, but he stamps it anyway -- his first act of bureaucratic rebellion. As she is leaving, he notices she has holes in her stockings and spontaneously decides to go with her. Outside she hovers around him, straightens his tie, takes his arm – all observed by Mitsuo and his wife with arched eyebrows.

He buys her a new pair of stockings. She runs around him like a satellite, first hiding behind him, then pulling him after her. At a tea parlor, she tells him she has a nickname for everyone in the office. There is Eel, who can't be pinned down; Drain-Cover, who is always damp (a phlegmatic, maundering character); Fly-Paper, who clings to you; Jello, who is always afraid; and Standard Fare, who has no characteristics whatsoever. Like the joke, these nicknames are a way of telling the truth, and Watanabe finds them quite funny – but what about his own? She reveals it – Mummy. After a thoughtful second, he is laughing at himself.

They spend the rest of the day together. He confesses, "The reason I turned into a mummy was – well, it was all for my son's sake. But now he doesn't appreciate it." Toyo says, "Well, you can't very well blame him for that. He didn't ask you to become a mummy." Very true. Watanabe means he was providing for Mitsuo's future, but he can't use Mitsuo as his excuse. The fact is, he hasn't been a very good father. In the flashback of the appendectomy, little Mitsuo asks, "Aren't you going to stay?" and Watanabe replies, "I – I have some things to do." Burying himself at the office was easier than being a father. Back at home, Watanabe has resolved to be a father now, to tell Mitsuo that he has cancer. But as he begins to speak, Mitsuo cuts him off: "I don't want to hear it. I've talked the whole problem over with Uncle today. . . . The idea – bringing a girl here." How little his son thinks of him! Watanabe is in total shock.

Watanabe goes to see Toyo at her new job. She works at a toy factory. On tables are heaped white, fluffy wind-up bunnies. She is beginning to feel he is pestering her, but she agrees to meet him after work. They go to a fancy place but have nothing to talk about. She gazes enviously at the girls on the opposite balcony, who are all a-flutter getting ready for a birthday girl.

Slowly and haltingly, Watanabe reveals to Toyo that he is dying and that is why he has been drawn to her. "If only I could be like you for one day before I die. . . . Oh, I want to do something. Only you can show me. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to do it. . . . Please, if you can, show me how to be like you."

He has come round the table very close to her and is in fact scaring her. She protests, "But all I do is work and eat. That and make toys like this one." She takes out a toy bunny and winds it up, and it hops toward him.

T: That's all I do, but it's fun. I feel as if I were friends with all the children in Japan now. Mr. Watanabe, why don't you do something like that, too? W: What can I do at the office? T: That's true. Well then, resign and find some other work. W: It's too late.

There is a long pause, and a tear starts in his eye. Then a light bulb comes on. "No it's not!" He is up and gone in a moment with the bunny in his hand and never even says goodbye. As he descends the stairs, the girls on the balcony begin "Happy Birthday to You." Though they are really singing to the birthday girl who is coming up, it is as if they are singing to him.

Next day at the office, the staff are astonished to see a new white hat on the hook and then Watanabe at his desk. It has been a month. He locates a document and hands it to Eel (I'll use their nicknames), saying "Here, Ono, take care of this." It's the women's petition for a children's park:

E: But this petition should go -- W: No, unless we do something about it, nothing will ever be done. Everyone will have to cooperate, the Public Works Section, the Parks Section, the Sewage Section – all must cooperate. Now call me a car. I must make an inspection and prepare a report today. E: But this will be difficult. W: No, it won't, not if you are determined.

He is for the first time in his life acting like a leader, teaching his subordinates. His eyes glow with purpose. They head out the door, in the rain. In the background is trumpet music, "Happy Birthday to You." Next, a narrator informs us, "Five months later, the hero of this story died."

It is the all-night wake at his house – a long scene that structurally parallels the night on the town earlier. Whereas the former was full of light and motion – nonstop stimulation – the latter takes place all in one room. Eel, Jello, and the rest are all there, and it will become like a detective story as they gradually piece together what happened to Watanabe. But first we have to endure the Great Lie in form of the stultifying atmosphere and disgusting flattery that is the rule for the whole party as long as the deputy mayor and the Parks and Public Works section chiefs are there.

Some reporters arrive and want an interview with the deputy mayor. We learn that the children's park was really built and that Watanabe was found dead in it one morning after a snowy night. Rumors persist that it was really Watanabe who built the park (the bureaucracy claims the credit) and that he went there on purpose and froze to death.

The deputy mayor pooh-poohs these rumors and points to the hospital autopsy showing he died of cancer. In other words, now that his death in the park is raising questions that are inconvenient in some quarters, the same hospital that assured Watanabe it was just a light case of ulcers now admits he had cancer! The hospital is part of the Great Lie and cannot be trusted. He did have cancer, but did he die of it?

The poison atmosphere is broken by the sudden arrival of the group of women. Going up to the shrine, they cannot restrain their emotion, for they loved this man! This puts the lie to the Lie. The politicians endure this without expression, then make their excuses and leave, which signals the right of the underlings to relax and get down to drinking.

As they drink, they begin to talk about Watanabe and how he changed suddenly. They start piecing together their recollections, which we see in flashback. Mitsuo and his wife are silent auditors to the conversation. One recollects, for example, how Watanabe staged a one-man "sit down" in the Parks Section. He just sat there head bowed, waiting, till the Parks chief gave in. Eel was astounded by an incident with the deputy mayor. Ushered into the great presence, Watanabe made his petition and was refused. The deputy mayor turned to resume some low conversation with his pals when he was irritated to find Watanabe still addressing him, asking him to reconsider. Such behavior was unheard of.

One man, Jello, acts a little differently from the others. He has already become Watanabe's champion and is visibly upset at doubters. They tease him with being "sentimental." A door that frames him from behind visually sets him apart.

Although Mitsuo had previously denied it, Drain-Cover now says, "He must have known he had cancer"; and all of a sudden it seems to be the only possible explanation. By this time they are shouting, quite drunk. They start recollecting little incidents that seem to confirm that he did know. Mitsuo is silent witness to all this and must now realize that this is what his father was trying to tell him that day.

"We'd all do the same thing ourselves," cries Eel, who expects to be the new chief. It is Drain-Cover again who takes the bull by the horns: "Ono, what did you just say? That we'd have done the same thing ourselves? Don't make me laugh. You fellows couldn't do what Mr. Watanabe did. Don't make me laugh." This opens up a general bitch-session against the bureaucracy and an outpouring of emotion for Watanabe, which turns to sobbing. While the others are quivering like jello, Jello sits erect, gazing calmly at Watanabe's photo.

A policeman brings Watanabe's hat – symbol of the new man -- and pays his respects at the altar. The others eagerly make a place for him, because all of a sudden they really want to understand Watanabe. The policeman feels bad because he saw Watanabe in the park that night but left him alone because he seemed so happy. In the flashback we see him on the swing in the falling snow -- not just sitting but swinging -- and singing, in a voice this time not dead but quivering with life,

Life is so short,
Fall in love, dear maiden.

He is the maiden, and he has fallen in love.

Mitsuo holds the hat, and he and his wife look at each other deeply ashamed. In the hallway he tells her, "I found a box with my name on it, on the stairs that night, and in it were his bank book and his seal, and his retirement allowance papers." She says, "He must have left them" -- in other words, he went to the park knowing he would not come back. In other words, the autopsy was a lie: he ended his life on purpose by exposure. Or rather, having finally known what it was to really live, he became fully reconciled to dying; and he had a deep longing to die right there at the scene of his rebirth.

A close-up of the box shows two items Mitsuo has not mentioned: Watanabe's alarm clock and the toy bunny. These two wind-up gizmos side by side sum up the crisis of Watanabe's life. The alarm clock got him up every morning to earn his perfect attendance record at the office that did nothing. It represents death-in-life, the Great Lie. The bunny represents innocence and life, which are truth. As a symbolic message to Mitsuo, this is a choice.

Meanwhile, in the room, the men, completely drunk, are vowing to change: "We must work hard." "Yes, with the spirit that Mr. Watanabe showed." "We mustn't let his death be meaningless." "Me, I'm going to turn over a new leaf!" "That's the spirit. Me, I'm going to work for the good of the public!" Jello alone remains unaffected. He moves to the shrine and gazes at it.

Next day at the office, the clerk approaches Eel, the new chief: "Excuse me, but they say that the sewage water has overflowed in Kizaki-cho." "Send them to the Public Works Section." Jello stands up so violently he knocks his chair over. He and Eel stare at each other. A challenge! Finally he sits down behind stacks of paper. The camera lowers till his head disappears – buried!

That evening Jello stands on a bridge, watching children playing in the park. A mom calls her kid to supper, and he vacates the swing where Watanabe died. It swings empty. Jello departs thoughtfully, framed by the bright Western sky.


The Citizens Section represents the tyranny of the group over the individual – over the citizens whom it thwarts, rather than helps, but even more insidiously over the individuals who are employed by it. The women who appeal to it in the opening scene still have plenty of spunk. Watanabe has none. The primacy of the group over the individual is itself a lie, a lie against human nature.

Watanabe represents what the bureaucracy turns people into. He is not the worst case, nothing like the arrogant deputy mayor or the sycophant Parks and Public Works section chiefs. He is not ambitious. He has simply served his time and flown under the radar. But in doing so, he has hurt people, like the women who want the park and like his son. Above all, he has hurt his own soul, starved it till it is a withered mockery of itself. The Citizens Section chief not only tells untruth, he does untruth, he is untruth.

The Great Lie is everywhere, in government, in institutions, in social rules, singing its siren-song: "Avoid unpleasantness. Avoid embarrassment. Take the path of least resistance. Play it safe. Keep up appearances. Close your eyes. Truth? Trust me, you don't want to know the truth! Pretend! Pretend! Pretend!" It appeals to fear, and Watanabe is a man paralyzed by fear.

If ever what is left of his conscience objects, he justifies himself to himself by telling himself he will live vicariously through his son: he made all these sacrifices for his son. This vicarious living through other people (parents through children, children through parents) is a particular target of attack by Kurosawa in many of his films. It is just the tyranny of the group over the individual in a subtle form and an extension of the Great Lie against nature.

Because he has lived with eyes closed, Watanabe has never really believed he would die. Had he listened to the doctor's siren-song, "It's just a light case of ulcers," he might have died as he was. But something not quite dead in him refuses to accept this lie. And so cancer becomes his wake-up call, the thing that saves his life. In the last five months of his life, he tells truth, does truth, and is truth: he becomes a saint. A loving life vitally communicates itself to others. The group of women love him. Jello loves him. And after his death, even his son is beginning to love him. He finally gave his son the gift he kept from him all his life – himself.

Because of this quality of love vitally communicating itself, we do not all need to become terminally ill before we can change. When Eel at the wake says, "We'd all do the same thing ourselves," Jello remarks, "We'll all die." In other words, we are all in the same position Watanabe was in, so how about it? Jello doesn't have to waste away the next thirty years, he can begin to live today, thanks to the fact that he had a saint for a guide and was alive to the example.

Watanabe has an example, too – Toyo – but it is a bit different. She is sheer youth, not a saint. She has an unkillable zest for life, but it has never been tried in the fire, never overcome great obstacles. She is his teacher without knowing it. Indeed, to her own mind, all she does is work and eat, and her remark, "I feel as if I were friends with all the children of Japan," is almost an afterthought. But to Watanabe it is an epiphany, and perhaps even then he makes the connection – remembers the petition about the children's park.

It is significant that the antidote to the Great Lie is a deed. It is deeds that we are made for, deeds that transform us. It is also significant that the setting of the deed is the very stronghold of the Great Lie – the office. If he had to look far and wide for the right deed to do, he would lose too much time looking. But the key to his redemption has been under his nose the whole time. Actually serving some citizens who came to the Citizen Section for help flushes out the Great Lie in the form of obstacles. Seeing the Great Lie for what it is, he no longer conspires with it by silence and passivity, he no longer fears it. Overcoming one obstacle at a time, he defeats it.

Kurosawa gives us the happiest outcome – children playing in the new park. Of course, there could be other possible outcomes. Watanabe could have died before the project could be completed. He could have been murdered by the yakuza, whom he defied when they wanted the site for a bar. City Hall could have successfully killed or indefinitely delayed the project in spite of his energy. He could not know he would be successful. All he could know was that he was now, for the first time, alive.