Reporting from the 2022 Telluride Film Festival.
He’s a nice gentleman, always properly dressed, prompt to work and other engagements, and he takes pride in his work—even if that means “holding on” to applications stuck in the Sisyphean circles of bureaucracy. He is Williams (Bill Nighy), an ordinary clerk who decides to become an upright citizen in the eleventh hour of his life.
Directed by Oliver Hermanus and written by Kazuo Ishiguro, Living is an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (To Live) in the way that Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars is an adaptation of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Ishiguro transports Kurosawa’s script from post-war Japan to England and alters it little. Even many of the shots, handsomely captured by cinematographer Jamie Ramsay, are practically lifted whole cloth from Ikiru. The stacks of paper are a little tidied, the seedier side of town is a little less seedy—the difference between countries that won the war and countries that didn’t?—but the song is the same and not always in a good way.
Living feels like a vanity project. Nighy is good, as is the cast surrounding him (Alex Sharp, Aimee Lou Wood, and Tom Burke are all excellent), but the fault lies in the fidelity of Ishiguro’s screenplay. His script is so indebted to his source material that Living feels more like a Xerox than an adaptation. Not so with Ikiru: Kurosawa and screenwriters Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni used Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich as their guide for a story of a good man stricken with a terminal illness seeking a moment of meaning. The strokes are similar, but the brush is different. Granted, Ikiru is such a beloved movie that if Ishiguro and Hermanus had strayed too far from the source, they might have incurred wrath of a different kind. Instead, they produced a well-made, well-acted, sweet piece of cinema that reminds you so much of the original that you start to wish you were watching that movie instead.
Living will be released in theaters on December 23 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.