An English-language adaptation of the script of “Ikiru” (1952), set in London in the 1950s.
‘Living’, the latest film from Oliver Hermanus, is a film focused on how someone comes to terms with finding out that they only have six months to live. It is adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro from the 1952 Japanese film ‘Ikiru‘, made by the Japanese master Akiro Kurosawa, with the setting changing from Tokyo to London, with the time period more or less kept intact. In ‘Living’, it is Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) who we follow, and we see him initially as a charmless bureaucrat who oversees a government department where the core objective appears to be passing work to other departments. His home life looks no cheerier as we learn that he is widowed and distant from his only son and his son’s partner, who share a house with him but little else.
Upon receiving the diagnosis from his doctor this man, who has spent a lifetime suppressing any joy in his existence, sets out to attempt to ‘live’ (hence the title), something he quickly discovers he has never really been capable of in the past. We then follow him as he chooses to spend his time doing things he’d otherwise have avoided, such as going on a night out with a stranger (Tom Burke) or spending time with a colleague out of work (Aimee Lou Wood, who is a delight), discovering the joy of life and what he’s been missing out on over the years. Bill Nighy has been getting some of the best reviews of his career for his performance and it’s not hard to see why. He is an actor who has such a wonderful understated presence in any case, but here that feels heightened as he plays a man forced to come to terms with his mortality, and how that makes him reconsider the way he has lived his life. He is truly remarkable and he will deserve the accolades that will hopefully come his way.
The film itself has had equally enthusiastic praise, but I was a little less warm on the film overall than I was on Nighy’s performance. I did enjoy the Kafka-esque hilarity of the bureaucratic nightmare where Mr. Williams works, and some of the segments as he starts to live his life are genuinely sweet (namely those featuring Miss Harris, played by Aimee Lou Wood), but I felt like I was expecting something more than what we ultimately got? We spend a bit too much time focusing on characters other than Mr. Williams, and I can’t say I was as invested in those parts of the story as I was in the central conceit. All the same, ‘Living’ is an enjoyable and thought provoking movie, worth it for Nighy alone, alongside a message that we could all heed as we live our lives.
Directed By: Oliver Hermanus
Starring: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke and Adrian Rawlins