Living12¦ Blu-ray, DVD
Without Kurosawa, it’s unlikely we would have ever seen The Magnificent Seven or even Star Wars, such is the influence of the great Japanese director.
Many of his films have influenced action packed US films, as well as from around the world – Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars is said to be a version of Yojimbo, for instance .
But an office-based, period drama starring Bill Nighy? Turns out, absolutely.
Young Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp) is full of beans as he’s about to start the first day of his new job. He’s working in the Planning department of London’s prestigious County Hall, nestled on the banks of the Thames.
It’s a small team, headed up by Mr Williams (Nighy), who takes his position terribly seriously.
It is a department that is thick with bureaucracy and dripping with red tape, with case files often simply lost in a loop of going from one department to the next.
One day however, Mr Williams gets some personal news, which changes his outlook on life and work. It’s such a drastic change that those who work with him can’t help but see a marked difference in him, but what’s the reason behind it?
So, getting the disappointing aspect of this film out of the way straight away, even though it is indeed based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru, there is a unacceptable lack of samurai in this film. That’s not to say the original did, as the premise of a bureaucrat facing his mortality is exactly the same, but let’s face it, what film couldn’t be improved with a samurai showdown.
The pay off would have to be an in form Nighy, whose performance begins as a mighty iceberg, before slowly thawing throughout. And as it’s set in London in the fifties, he takes his sweet time in thawing.
And despite its Japanese roots, South African director Oliver Hermanus’ film is terribly, terribly British. It reflects a time in British history where everyone respected the chain of command and just did as they were told.
Nighy’s character is a product of that rigid society, who shows no signs of changing, initially at least, who only begins to question his role after hearing some medical news.
It’s a subtle transformation that he goes through, but it’s made more striking considering the restrictions of the era he lives in. Whether it was an Oscar worthy performance is still up for debate (somewhat a moot point now, considering he didn’t win), but there is a fragility and beauty to it that makes for one of the veteran actor’s finest.
He’s ably supported too, most notably by the wonderful pairing of Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret and Sharp as young Wakeling, both of whom drive that sense of innocence as they both help Mr Williams now see what needs to be done.
It’s fascinating to see yet another Akira Kurosawa film, whose stories clearly translate so well around the world, whether it finds men wielding lightsabers in a galaxy far, far away, or a do-it-by-the-book English bureaucrat sat behind a desk.