Kurosawa returned two years after Rashomon with his caring and poignant rendition of personal struggle to find meaning in life. The sad protagonist in Ikiru (1952) is "an aging widower, a petty government official who has done nothing but shuffle papers and pass the buck for thirty years." (Crowther, 1960) Struck with cancer, the man determines to redeem himself for his past inaction by wholeheartedly devoting himself to the completion of a single counter-bureaucratic endeavour: getting a children's playground built before he dies. Though Kurosawa's technical genius often shines through the heart-wrenching emotion, it only serves to deepen our empathy for his characters; his humanism is thus at its peak, and this film is essential viewing as a result.
You see more human nature and more Japanese customs in this film—more emotion, personality and ways of living—than in most of the others that have gone before.Bosley Crowther, 1960, New York Times
The film is a Samurai-free study of aging and contemporary values. … Kurosawa's tone is social realist, the closest "the emperor" ever came to being Vittorio De Sica.Michael Atkinson, 2002, Village Voice
I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently. … Over the years I have seen Ikiru every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us.Roger Ebert, 1996, Chicago Sun Times
In this film Kurosawa's humanism was at its height. This discursive film is long and varied; it winds and unwinds; it shifts from mood to mood, from present to past, from silence to a defeaning roar—and all in the most unabashed and absorbing fashion. Its greatest success may be in its revitalization of film technique."The Japanese film: art and industry" by Joseph Anderson & Donald Richie, 1982