LIVING – A Review by Cynthia Flores

LIVING – A Review by Cynthia Flores

This new film, Living, is based on the film giant Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru. That film was lauded and showered with awards when it first hit theaters and has a legion of fans. In the original Japanese classic film’s trailer, the quote, “The truths of a lifetime bring out the beauty in a person. And move the heart, like a tender poem,” was emblazoned across the screen. That is the core of the film that Akira Kurosawa co-wrote and directed. 

Kurosawa’s original material was strong enough to be reimagined now and transposed to London. It is set around the same era the original film took place in. Director Oliver Hermanus was lucky enough to have a brilliant script by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of the novels The Remains of The Day and Never Let Me Go). And the stunning cinematography of Jamie Ramsay to work with. Ramsay made the film look like something that was shot in the 50s in glorious Technicolor. 

For Living, well-known costume designer Sandy Powell shows off her talents with a sea of businessmen in suits and ladies scuttling about in proper attire. The film’s score is by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch and works seamlessly with the movie’s sound design. Usually, you only think of big blockbuster films when you think of a film’s soundscape. But the soundscape for Living is fantastic. You are enveloped by the everyday noise that surrounds you in a building or on the street. Even the silence in the snow is somehow captured as part of the story as the score moves the story along. There are times of sheer contemplation in Living. As you can tell, I really liked this film. 

Living is set in 1953 London, shattered by WWII but still recovering. Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), a veteran civil servant, is an impotent cog within the city’s bureaucracy as it struggles to rebuild. His life is buried under paperwork at the office and lonely at a home where his only son Michael (Barney Fishwick) and prudish wife, Fiona (Patsy Ferran), live with him. A widower, Mr. Williams’ life has long felt empty and meaningless. Then a shattering medical diagnosis forces him to take stock – and to try and grasp fulfillment before it goes beyond reach.

At a seaside resort, chaperoned by a decadent local writer, Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke), he flirts with hedonism before rejecting it as his solution. Watching the old man party the night away is a painful parable of the emptiness that kind of nightlife can have. Back in London, Mr. Williams finds himself drawn to the natural vitality of Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood). She is a young woman who once worked under his supervision and is now determined to spread her wings. Then one day, he is struck by a revelation – one as simple as it is profound. And with a new energy and the help of Peter (Alex Sharp), an idealistic new recruit to his department, he sets about creating a legacy for the next generation. 

In print, director Oliver Hermanus was asked why he wanted to tell this well-known story. He replied:

“At heart, this is a story about death affirming life. It’s about how, in the wake of this man realizing that his life is coming to an end, he’s pressured into Living. I always thought that this was an important story to tell today because we sort of live in distraction. We live looking at our cell phones, looking into the future. It’s interesting to take a step back and wonder what it means to be present, actually, in your own life.” 

I give Living 5 stars. It’s a fitting tribute to Kurosawa’s brilliant story of making a difference with the one life we are given. I am sure this film and its lead, Bill Nighy, will be on Oscar’s list for best film and actor this year. In fact, this will be the career best part Bill Nighy is remembered for. So don’t miss your chance to enjoy it on the big screen in theaters. 


Directed by: Oliver Hermanus

Written by: Kazuo Ishiguro, from the original screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni

Rated: PG-13

Selig Rating: 5 Stars

Running Time: 1h 42 min


Limited Theatrical Release: January 13th – Angelika Film Center & Café Dallas

Starring: Bill Nighy, Tom Burke, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp


The Selig Rating Scale:

5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.

4 Stars – Good movie

3 Stars – OK movie

2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.

1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.

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