While remakes can sometimes be surprisingly great, it’s probably never a great idea to remake an Akira Kurosawa movie. But that’s not going to stop Living, an English-language remake of Kurosawa’s acclaimed 1952 film Ikiru. Lionsgate just picked up UK distribution rights to the film, which comes from director Oliver Hermanus and will star Bill Nighy. Kurosawa’s original followed a civil servant who learns he has cancer and then struggles to leave behind a positive legacy before he dies.
There’s an English-language remake of Ikiru on the way, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everyone is going to think this is a bad idea. But for now, it’s very much happening, with Deadline confirming Lionsgate just picked up the UK distribution rights to the Ikiru remake, which is called Living. Bill Nighy is set to star, while Kazuo Ishiguro penned the screenplay which Oliver Hermanus will direct.
The remake is set in London in 1952, and follows “Williams (Nighy) a veteran civil servant, who has become a cog in the bureaucracy of rebuilding post-WWII England. As paperwork piles up on his desk, Williams learns he has seven months to live. Thus begins his quest to find meaning in his life before it slips away.” In the original, Takashi Shimura played Kanji Watanabe, “an aging bureaucrat with stomach cancer forced to strip the veneer off his existence and find meaning in his final days. Told in two parts, Ikiru offers Watanabe’s quest in the present, and then through a series of flashbacks. The result is a multifaceted look at a life through a prism of perspectives, resulting in a full portrait of a man who lacked understanding from others in life.”
Ikiru is widely acclaimed, and while I’m not anti-remake in general, this just seems like a bad, bad idea. I’m sure people who are unaware of the original will be fine with it, or even indifferent. But those who hold Kurosawa’s film in high regard are bound to grumble, and for good reason – what’s the point in remaking a film regarded to be a masterpiece? “Over the years I have seen Ikiru every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think,” Roger Ebert wrote in 1996.
“We feel confident that Living will be in good hands, and we look forward to delivering an inspiring, emotional and rousing cinematic experience,” said Living producers Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen. “The combination of talent both in front of and behind the camera, inspired by Kurosawa’s original screenplay and Ishiguro’s reinterpretation, is both an exhilarating challenge and an exciting prospect.”
This isn’t the first time someone has attempted an Ikiru remake. Back in 2003, DreamWorks was working on a remake of their own, with plans for Tom Hanks to star. It never got off the ground. Meanwhile, Ikiru is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.
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