Rotten Tomatoes (****+), Letterboxd (4.5/5), Imdb.com (9/10)
Based on the film “Ikiru” (1952) by acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, this English adaptation of that work by South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus faithfully re-creates the touching story presented in that picture in a setting a world apart from the original. When an aging button-down bureaucrat (Bill Nighy) who has spent an unimaginative life following rules, regulations and protocols receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, he quietly desires to make the most of what time he has left. But there’s just one problem: Having spent a lifetime playing it safe, he doesn’t know how to enjoy his existence or imbue it with a meaningful sense of fulfillment. He experiments with different means to bring this about, essentially leaving his daily routine behind and worrying his family and colleagues that he has mysteriously abandoned the routine he has long carried out with clocklike precision and predictability. But, no matter what “radical” steps he takes, he still feels unsatisfied. What will it take to bring about that result? That’s what this earnest searcher looks for as time is rapidly running out. While the storytelling style here may initially seem somewhat scattered, episodic and unconventional, there comes a turning point where the reasons for this become apparent, leading viewers to a new level of understanding in what proves to be a truly moving and heartfelt final act, an approach often used by Kurosawa and lovingly reproduced in this fitting cinematic homage. This is the kind of movie that will appeal most to those of a certain age (i.e., those approaching their own finish lines), and it’s one that will almost certainly grow on viewers the further they get into it, even if it doesn’t garner widespread general appeal. The standout aspect of this production, of course, is Nighy’s stellar performance, one that has, thankfully, finally yielded ample, well-deserved recognition for this long-overlooked actor. It’s a portrayal backed by a fine supporting ensemble cast, gorgeous cinematography, and the excellent screenplay of Kazuo Ishiguro, who previously distinguished himself in such works as “The Remains of the Day” (1993) and “Never Let Me Go” (2010). And don’t be surprised if this one evokes a few tears along the way, a sure sign that the inspiring and emotive message of this offering is truly getting through, successfully presenting audiences with insights into the true meaning of living.