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Living is a 2022 British re-make of the Japanese film Ikiru which, in turn, was partially inspired by The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy — a truly international story.
I was going to say that I haven’t read The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but I think I might have read it in my twenties during my attempt to correct some disappointments from my college education. I used to say that I got engineering degree, not a college education.
I definitely saw Ikiru, considered one of the great films from Japan and of the famed director Akira Kurosawa. Ikiru was my favorite among a small collection of Japanese films that we watched to get a broader understanding of world cinematic history.
Ikiru was originally released in 1952. We probably saw it on DVD in the 1990s or 2000s. That was too long ago for me to remember the details, but I did retain a sense of dread from watching the delight of a children’s playground get bogged down in circular bureaucracy.
Bill Nighy stars in Living as the long-term government bureaucrat, Rodney Williams. Like the original movie, Living is set in the early 1950s — a time when, in many places in the world, men reached their pinnacle in a white-collar job, with no value attached to what the work entailed, if anything.
At the beginning of the movie, we encounter a group of women making the rounds of various bureaucratic offices to get the government to build a playground. They begin in one department, only to end up back in the same department hours later with no one taking responsibility to help them figure out what the process is to get the approval and the small amount of money that they need. One begins to suspect that no such process exists.
Bill Nighy’s performance as the under-reactive Rodney Williams, even when he receives and deals with a terminal cancer diagnosis, was widely praised. We’re becoming fans of Aimee Lou Wood (Sex Education and The Electrical Life of Louis Wain). In Living, Wood plays the young woman who demonstrates what living looks like, in contrast to Rodney Williams’ staid existence.
Living had only a limited theater run but is now available on DVD. It got terrific reviews from the people who did see it. We recommend it as a serious film with a humorous undertone and a timeless message for the viewer.