Based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama Ikiru, and set in the year after the Japanese film’s release, Living offers an English take on the existential examination of killing time.
Mr Williams (Bill Nighy) is the superior of a city hall office, where shuffling papers is the daily fare. His lethargic demeanour has earned him the nickname “Mr Zombie“ from younger colleagues and his son‘s family just bide their time waiting for the inheritance. The diagnosis of terminal cancer with a remaining life expectancy of less than a year serves as a harsh wake-up call for Williams and he decides to make the most out of what little time he has left.
Already from the first images (the vintage footage of London that serve as the film‘s opening credits), South African director Oliver Hermanus‘s first international feature feels like a much older film than it really is. The depicted period is not merely portrayed through a retrospect lens, but 1950s Britain is recreated in an understated manner similar to the films produced at the time, giving the feeling of watching the rerun of an old classic rather than a modern remake.
Written by Japanese-British author Kazoo Ishiguro, the screenplay captures the spirit of Kurosawa‘s adaptation of Tolstoy‘s The Death of Ivan Ilyich while adding local flavours of London and Bournemouth. The cinematography immaculately frames the characters within the space they occupy, reflecting the grander theme of the story. Nighy’s weary protagonist is expertly supplemented by Aimee Lou Wood and Tom Burke who function as the embodiments of youth and liveliness upon which he re-orients himself.
Exposing the human condition of learning to live life at a time where there is not much left of it may not offer anything new to a seasoned moviegoer – but the bittersweet lesson Living teaches is something else: that we cannot learn by proxy.
Living is released nationwide on 4th November 2022.
Watch the trailer for Living here: