'Living', a film to discover where the secret of happiness lies

When I was a student I used to go to the Filmoteca.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
03 January 2023 Tuesday 21:51
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'Living', a film to discover where the secret of happiness lies

When I was a student I used to go to the Filmoteca. There they screened the films of Akira Kurosawa, who "had a strong impact among the young Englishmen of my generation, because his message was very different from that of the cinema that came from Hollywood."

During those afternoons of art and essay cinema, Kazuo Ishiguro saw a film that changed his life, Ikiru (1952), because in that Japanese classic he discovered that "even if your life is small, you can contribute to the good of humanity, maybe nobody sees your merits, that they do not recognize them, but it does not matter, since success can be a solitary experience.

Many years later, having already become a Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Ishiguro wanted to transmit to the new generations -and also to the old ones who missed it- the message of that old Kurosawa film. So the British writer put all his efforts into making a remake.

For this, he contacted a producer friend, Stephen Woolley, whom he convinced of the importance of the project and imposed two conditions: that the film star Bill Nighy and be set in London in the 50s.

“It was very important for Nighy to play Mr. Williams, because he is a great actor who, in a way, has been missed by the cinema and I wanted them to give him his big break, the right role to show that he is one of the best of his kind. generation”, explains Ishiguro about Nighy, known for movies like Love Actually (Richard Curtis., 2003) or the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Ishiguro's strategy has worked, because Nighy is perfect as the correct and melancholy Mr. Williams and has already grabbed a few award nominations for the new season for best actor: Golden Globes, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Critics Choice Awards , Satellite Awards...

Ishiguro also had a very clear reason for imposing his second condition: "British cinema of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was excellent and my passion for that cinema is so complete that I wanted it to be honored as it deserves." the writer points out in an interview with La Vanguardia during the last San Sebastián Festival.

Woolley, the producer, believed in the project from the beginning, but he also imposed his condition: that Ishiguro himself write the script. "I was trying to finish my novel, but this film meant so much to me that I accepted, despite not being an expert," says the Nobel laureate, who had already signed scripts for James Ivory and for BBC series and who has also seen “much, much cinema” and has been a jury member at various film festivals. But it was above all "my special relationship with Kurosawa that gave me the strength to make this trip."

The Living project was completed with the choice of South African director Oliver Hermanus, who emphasized “aesthetics” and managed to revive post-war London thanks “to a lot of research and study, because, not being English, I was able to choose and compose a very particular recreation”, said the director in an interview with La Vanguardia also carried out during the San Sebastian contest.

The result of Ishiguro's commitment, of all these conditions and of many other choices is Living , which arrives today on Spanish screens, and tells the story of Mr. Williams, who always wanted to be a civil servant. His life has passed between files and bureaucracy and, now, he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Mr. Williams only has a few months to live and he thinks about spending it on a spree, but realizes that doesn't make him happy. Thanks to the joy and optimism that a co-worker gives off, he understands that the meaning of life lies in helping others in the simplest way.

That is also what Ishiguro discovered when he saw Ikiru in his youth. So “I thought I was going to have a small life and it seemed to me that Kurosawa's philosophy was the right one, so I have lived trying to be the best person and making things easier for others. Then they gave me the Nobel Prize and it was wonderful, but even that wasn't that special, because what matters in the end is whether you've had a good life."