Living Review

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In 1952, the greatest filmmaker of all time was feeling a bit pensive. Between Rashomon and Seven Samurai – his fourth and fifth films as a director – Akira Kurosawa made Ikiru, a quiet contemplation of old age, death and empathy in the form of a terminal cancer drama about a bureaucrat who tries to take hold of life at the last possible moment (inspired in part by Tolstoy’s The Death Of Ivan Ilyich). It takes guts for any artist to remake a masterpiece; Oliver Hermanus has remade something that grows and develops from its predecessor. It translates like you wouldn’t believe. We are talking Living Review.

Adapted with piercing grace by British-Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (Kurosawa’s film was set in contemporary Japan; this one is transposed to post-war Britain), the script finds elegant correspondences between these two societies’ shared conservatism and bureaucracy – the kind that saps spirits dry and pins down ambitions beneath its weight. Kanji Watanabe becomes Mr Williams (Bill Nighy), facing up to his own mortality after receiving a medical diagnosis and wrestling with what it means to live before it’s too late.

Hermanus’s film is beautiful: this careful, softly paced piece of classical filmmaking might remind you of David Lean or Carol Reed at their most modernist, but shot in black-and-white on colour stock. Everything here looks fantastic — special commendations must go to Jamie D Ramsay’s rich cinematography, Sandy Powell’s handsome costumes, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s decorous score music and Helen Scott’s angular production design.

But mostly it belongs to Nighy. His face might be granite anyway but he wears his years heavily here — there are moments where he seems barely capable of moving his mouth — while still convincing as someone who is playing older than they are; he has rarely been better than he is in this film. It’s also an Englishman’s story, and Nighy has never looked better than he does here in Powell’s sharp three-pieces; his out-of-character introspection pairs wonderfully with the ticking-clock mortal implications of a wool suit that has clearly been tailored within an inch of its life. “I started looking around myself a bit,” says Nighy at one point, it feels like we’ll be looking around Living for at least as long as Ikiru.

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