Posts Tagged ‘Akira Kurosawa’

Bill Nighy

“LIVING” My rating: A- (Theaters)

102 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Just about every element of “Living” works perfectly…which one half expects given that it’s a Brit remake of the brilliant Akira Kurosawa film “Ikiru (To Live).”

To that 1952 humanist triumph (about a gray civil servant whose life finds focus only when he faces death), screenwriter Kazoo Ishiguro and director Oliver Herman add a funny/sad study of a singularly English form of emotional constipation. There are actually some chuckles in this tale of a man with a fatal disease.

And the fact that the man in question is portrayed by the great Bill Nighy kicks “Living” into the emotional stratosphere. Nighy has won an Oscar nomination for his work here…I’ll be rooting for him to take home the golden boy.

“Living” opens with vintage color footage of post-war London, then cuts to a suburban train platform populated by identically-clad office workers (three-piece suits, bowler hats, briefcases and umbrellas) on their way to their jobs in the city. Director Herman has a good time framing and choreographing their movements to remind us of the zombie proles in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”

We are introduced to Wakeling (Alex Sharp), a new hire at the public works office overseen by Nighy’s Mr. Williams. The kid learns quickly that the office is a place of Scrooge-ish joylessness; he and his colleagues are expected to shuffle much paperwork while accomplishing very little.

Woe be the citizen who enters this daunting bureaucratic maze, as Wakeling discovers when assigned to assist three housewives seeking to have a children’s playground built in the rat-infested bomb crater near their tenement.

Early on the sepulchral Williams visits a physician’s office where he gets bad news. The normally uncommunicative widower considers revealing his grim diagnosis to his live-in son and daughter-in-law, but can’t quite bring himself to open up.

Instead he plays hooky for the first time in his life. Rather than commuting to his desk Williams takes the train to a seaside resort where he is befriended by a rather seedy young intellectual (Tom Burke) and led on a Nighttown-style tour of disreputable cellars, jazz venues and strip-tease shows. It may be the closest thing to a holiday the stiff scarecrow has allowed himself in decades.

Back in London he befriends a young woman (Aimee Lou Wood) who recently left his employ; it is slowly dawning on Williams that while he is surrounded by other people, he actually knows none of them.

Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood

“Living” effortless adapts the unusual narrative of the Kurosawa film — the second half is devoted to Williams’ co-workers reflecting on how he chose to spend his final months — and we’re once again reminded of the original’s stroke of genius, the ways in which it mines emotions without stooping to stridency or heavy-handed bathos.

That savvy sense of restraint also permeates Nighy’s performance. His Williams at first presents as a human chalk stick — dry, white and brittle. Small wonder his newfound female friend describes him as “dead but not dead.”

But little by little we see the character grow aware of sensibilities that have been long dormant. Some actors would aim for the big moment, but Nighy gives a performance of astonishing subtlety. He knows a little goes a long way; he can make us feel more with a straight face than other players could evoke with howls and breast beating.

The resulting movie is a quiet triumph and an unexpected paradox: a feel-good film about dying.

| Robert W. Butler

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