“Living” is a beautiful tale from Sony Picture Classics that deserves recognition on the 2022 awards circuit. Adapted from Japanese director Akira Kurasawa’s 1952 film “Ikiru,” director Oliver Hermanus substitutes London for Japan, specifically a post World War II London in the 1950s.
The new setting is fertile ground for screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, who instills the spirit of the original film while bringing new flavors to the story. Bill Nighy delivers a career-best performance as Mr. Williams, a man going through life on autopilot until he receives a terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer at his doctor’s office.
Mr. Williams is a man of stiff posture and emotional restraint, and he hardly reacts when he learns of his prognosis. Mr. Williams has spent two decades working in Public Works department where he’s never missed a day of work. Now, Mr. Williams is seeking life outside the office and interacting with strangers in ways he never would have attempted prior to being terminally ill.
The most impactful thread of the film is the blossoming relationship between Mr. Williams and his co-worker Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood). Wood more than holds her own with Nighy on screen, and that warmth and spark of life touches Mr. Williams.
The film comes in at one hour and forty minutes which is significantly shorter than the original film,“Ikiru,” but no less impactful. Nighy brings a delightful nuance to this role, slowly allowing Mr. Williams’ closed off shell to open as his time on Earth races to a close.
Nighy won the acting prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and he’s likely to earn one of the five Best Actor slots when Oscar nominations are revealed. Despite the dark and dreary films that seem to consume all the awards season press, “Living” goes against the grain and should be seen by every voter.
The artistry in the film goes beyond Hermanus’ direction, and one cannot overstate the fine work of Sandy Powell’s costume design, the production design of Helen Scott, the score of composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, or Jamie Ramsay’s cinematography.
“Living” is a fresh breath of air arriving late in the season with a powerful message, carefully crafted performances, and below the talent artisans working at their best possible level.
Letter Grade: A-