I can’t afford to hate people. I don’t have that kind of time.

Easily the most shattering film from director Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru (1952, Japan… “To Live” in English) is one of the director’s few films set in a contemporary time. The film stars Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura (who starred in more films for the director than any other actor… even Toshiro Mifune) as Kanji Watanabe, a middle-aged man who has done nothing as a bureaucrat for decades. One day, Watanabe learns he has terminal stomach cancer and he immediately tries to figure out what to do with himself with the little time he has remaining. Not telling his estranged son about his condition, he goes out nights but realizes such social frivolity is not something he can stand.

One day at the office, a group of mothers are petitioning the government to transform a cesspool into a playground. Despite what you have read here, this is anything but a sentimental movie. It is at many times unsympathetic and wallows in Watanabe’s despondency. Nevertheless, the audience finds itself rooting for Watanabe as he struggles to figure out what to do with himself and, later, how to navigate Tokyo’s bureaucratic offices to get the playground built.

You may have noticed my icon is a man on a swing in the snow. Yes, that is from Ikiru. And the song he sings in that scene and almost exactly halfway through the film… well, let’s just say it is essential viewing.

Ikiru was never nominated for anything like an Academy Award (they do have an excuse, the Academy hadn’t created the Foreign Language Film category yet)… but Ikiru did manage to win all three of its Mainichi Film Awards including Best Picture and also nabbed a BAFTA nomination for Takashi Shimura as Best Foreign Actor (Ikiru was released in Britain in 1959).