Ed note: For the next several weeks, composer and film aficionado Lewis Saul has agreed to supply us with in-depth commentary about the films of Akira Kurosawa, now showing in an extended festival at the Film Forum. Even if you're unable to stop by the Forum, we think Lew's insights will deepen your appreciation of these important movies.Ikiru (To Live) 
PLAYING January 21st at The Film Forum
This is Kurosawa's 13th film.A man, Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is diagnosed with stomach cancer. He decides to make the best of the time he has left by doing something meaningful.
It is hard to pin down great art. Many people would proclaim that Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai)  is the greatest Kurosawa film; others might pick this one ~ the two films are as different as can be. Ikiru makes a lot of Top-10 lists!
I haven't spoken too much about Kurosawa's writing process up until now. Kurosawa and his writers (in this case veteran Shinobu Hashimoto, who was joined by newcomer Hideo Oguni) would check into their favorite ryokan (inn, usually by a hot springs) and work all day and drink all night until they were done!
Oguni quoted in Galbraith: "Kurosawa said he wanted more than mere advice. He wanted to use Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich as its basis and asked me to write with him ... when I agreed to do it, he took me to Hakkone in the middle of winter ... why he brought me to such a cold place, I'll never understand. My gloves were frozen solid in the bathroom." [p. 156]
And here's the kicker: for all of Kurosawa's genius, if not for Oguni's suggestions, Ikiru might have been just another mediocre film. Check it out: