The king "like a mollusk who never found his rock" is here a Tokyo functionary with numbered days, Akira Kurosawa contemplates his x-ray plate. At the center of bureaucracy's circular labyrinth is the rubber stamp on the Public Affairs desk, the clerk wielding it (Takashi Shimura) has ossified following decades of disappointment and plain noodle soup, "he's not even really alive." A shock revives the stalled engine: Stomach cancer is the diagnosis, the "rebellion against life" that begins at a saké den is taken to the pleasure district by a self-described Mephistopheles (Yunosuke Ito). Hooch and pachinko parlors and the art of striptease prove poor consolations to the codger, whose croaking rendition of an old dirge in sustained frontal close-up (cf. Major Amberson's monologue) clears a roisterous honky-tonk. Self-absorbed disconnection from the son (Nobuo Kaneko) but a flash of clarity from the young coworker (Miki Odagiri), the mummy unwrapped ("like you mutated or something...") has a new sense of purpose. Deathly silence outside the doctor's office, then "Happy Birthday" for the restaurant epiphany. Haloed by the sporty new hat, Ecce Homo versus the cesspool (the persistent theme is from Drunken Angel), a most caustic commemoration. Analytical sentimentalism drives the curious construction, skipping months ahead to the protagonist's funeral and divulging the hurdles of his mission (standing up to the Deputy Mayor, staring down Yakuza hoods) as flashbacks from a gaggle of fellow pencil-pushers eager to swipe credit. Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich is commonly recognized as an influence, Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt less so, Ford's Will Rogers studies are striking sources of inspiration. The existential punchline sees the transformation of the formal wake into a sloshed debate to try to sort things out, meanwhile the free soul enjoys his swing amid the celestial snow. "The world is a dark place if his determination was pointless." The best analysis is Kurosawa's own in Madadayo, or is it Ran? Cinematography by Asakazu Nakai. With Haruo Tanaka, Shinichi Himori, Kamatari Fujiwara, Bokuzen Hidari, Minoru Chiaki, Makoto Kobori, and Nobuo Nakamura. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce