To The Barricades

I recently watched the classic 1952 Kurosawa film Ikiru, and have some comments. But those comments include spoilers; you are warned.

The hero of the movie has spent thirty years as a city bureaucrat. He is a manager now, but his job has somehow crushed the life out of him. He learns that he will die soon of cancer, and becomes despondent. He tries several things to rekindle his spirit, but what finally works is to take on the cause of some citizens who want an unhealthy pond turned into a park. They have been given the run-around from bureaucrats passing the buck and defending their turf, but our hero risks his career and defies superiors, who claim credit for his eventual success. He dies happy and full of life.

Note that the activities that gave our hero life are pretty similar to the activities that crushed his soul. He is still doing city paperwork, but now he fights for a cause, even if that cause isn’t any moral principle more specific than “make good things happen.” After all, no one in the movie disputes the idea that this city bureaucracy should be in charge of making this sort of city decision. While some say that we never go to the barricades for efficiency, this is exactly what our hero does.

But instead of showing our deep attachment to efficiency, perhaps this just shows our deep attachment to fighting. Maybe it is merely the chance to fight higher status folks, instead of submitting to them, that enlivens our hero. In our movie-mode far mind we really love conflict and even war. To the barricades for … anything; what ya got?

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