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Was “Ikiru” the First “Breaking Bad?”

September 28th, 2011 by Rebecca Harper Editor

On our way home from work a week ago, we found ourselves engrossed with an episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” where host Terri Gross was speaking to the cast and creator of what may well be the TV’s most successful show about meth, “Breaking Bad.” (Barring any meth-centric episodes of “CSI,” of course.”) When she spoke to show runner Vince Gilligan, we really took notice because Gilligan — who previously worked on “The X-Files“— was suddenly talking about one of the greatest movies of all time, Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru.”

Here’s an excerpt from with the interview, which we suggest checking out if you’re a fan of the show (note: there are spoilers for the movie):

… There’s a wonderful Kurosawa movie from the 50s in which a man, a mid-level, very much a Walter White-type, or rather, Walter White, I suppose, inspired by this man. This man is very much a mid-level corporate guy who finds out he’s dying of cancer. And in the last months of his life what he chooses to do is a very good thing, it’s to build is playground, a small playground in Tokyo for the children in his neighborhood.

And this haunting ending of this movie is this man swinging on a swing set in this playground that he’s managed to build after a surprisingly hard go of it. And the snow is coming down and he singing a Japanese children’s song, and it’s just haunting and beautiful. And, of course, “Breaking Bad” is anything but that. It’s the flip side of that. It’s a man doing terrible things once he is freed by this knowledge that he does not have long for this world.

But I think what the two stories to share in a sense is the idea that if we found out the exact expiration date on our lives if we found out when we were going to be checking out, would that free us up to do bold and courageous things, either good or bad things, hopefully good things, then I think there’s a lot of that involved in “Breaking Bad.”

As “Breaking Bad” continues its fourth season (it will wrap in mid-October), you check out the original Walter White, Kenji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura,”Seven Samurai“), in Kurosawa’s celebrated film, “Ikiru,” available to Hulu Plus subscribers from the Criterion Collection.

Last comment: Oct 26th 2011 2 Comments
  • Grendelsan says:

    What is often overlooked in Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” is that he is really making a harsh critique of Japan’s strict adherence to bureaucracy. During the funeral scene, the man’s co-workers all see how hard it was to get the playground approved and they swore, one by one, to change the system and make it practical and useful to the community as it should. It was an exhilarating moment of clarity and reason that sweeps the audience up to believe that things would change, just as the dead man’s efforts taught them. The end scene, however, shows the same mountain of papers, the same red tape, the same embrace of bureaucracy. In short, nothing had changed and the man’s efforts to enact change died with him. “Ikiru,” then, is less about the man’s terminal illness and his quest to be helpful to his community and more about the impassibility of Japan’s conformist culture. The nail that sticks up is hammered down.

  • OKA looks amazing! Why have I not seen this advertised anywhere!? Do you guys know the release date? I couldnt make it out anywhere on the video?