Freeze Frame #65, 66, 67, 68: Ikiru

There is so much about this movie that is memorable. Still, if I pick the scenes that have stayed with me, they would be as follows:

1. A young journalist takes the old man on a tour of the Tokyo nightlife. They end up in a bar where a lot of people are talking, some women are dancing and there’s a man playing the piano. The piano player asks if anyone has any requests, and the old man says, “Play Life is brief.” It’s a old Japanese love song, and as the man begins to play, the old man sings it. He has a very quiet voice, almost a whisper. There’s a woman sitting in his lap when he begins. She gets up and moves to the side. The people walking around stop and listen. This is a young crowd, full of gaiety and with no conception of death, but for a few minutes, he has made them step out of the rhythm of their lives. In some ways, their reaction in this scene is representative of the reaction of everyone around him. They are all immersed in their own lives until they hear the music, and for a moment there, they pause, listen and reflect.

2. A replay of the song comes towards the end, when the old man is sitting on a swing in the park he has helped build. It is snowing, and given his health, this isn’t a night to be out – indeed, he is found dead the next morning. But he sits there on that swing, singing the same song. But this time, it is not in sorrow. I found that moment so powerful that I ended up crying quietly and couldn’t stop for a while.

3. The turning point for his character comes when he asks the young woman he has been spending time with, how she manages to be so alive. She responds that all she does is work, where she makes little wind-up toys. She says it makes her feel like she’s playing with every baby in the world. It makes him reexamine his own work, and wonder whether he could make something there. All along, in the background, a group of girls are getting ready to celebrate their friend’s birthday. The old man looks up, his eyes shining with newfound resolve: he shall find something valuable and useful to do at work. He shall find a reason to live. As he walks out of the restaurant and down the stairs, the birthday girl walks up while her friends sing Happy Birthday To You.

4. At his wake, his colleagues discuss his strange behaviour towards the end. After much discussion, they finally piece the clues together and realize that the knowledge that he was about to die made him change. It makes sense, they all agree. They would’ve done the same in his situation. And then one man pipes up: But any of us could suddenly drop dead.

Life is brief, fall in love, maidens
Before the crimson bloom fades from your lips
Before the tides of passion cools within you
For those of you who know no tomorrow

Life is brief, fall in love, maidens
Before our raven tresses begin to fade
Before the flames in your hearts flicker and die
For those to whom today will never return

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