A story that transitions quite well from Russia to Japan to England.

I was given a screener for “Living,” which is an English version of the 1952 Japanese film “Ikiru,” directed by Akira Kurosawa, and I had to watch them both close together, so I can compare and contrast them.

“Ikiru” was 2 hours and 20 minutes, while “Living” is only an hour and 40 minutes. The original was more patient than this is, but both versions are peaceful and consistent to the story. It feels like a 1952 film, because of how the credits begin and end (with the “THE END” format and for the performances and dialogue; and it also feels like a Japanese film with the score (composed by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch) representing the classic’s ambiance.

In a sense and spirit, it feels more Japanese than English. In fact, the screenplay was written by Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day,” “Never Let Me Go”), who captures the magic of the original in small ways.

Both versions, adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s novel “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” focus on a bureaucrat who is dying of stomach cancer, and how he’s lived his life with persistence and tribulations.

This time, the time is 1952 in London, and we have Bill Nighy as Mr. Williams, who is so committed to his position, that’s he’s willing to wait at a certain place at a certain time until he can receive the documents he requires. The performance inside Nighy is so captivating in such a transcending screenplay, you don’t believe he’s in an English film.

He decides to spent all his money in one night of partying, drinking, and dancing, and so on, and so on. Even playing the old prize grabbers just for the Hell of it. But I doubt he spent all that money, considering how comfortable he looks at restaurants and the movies.

The secretary Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) is quitting her job for another position. He likes spending time with her, because of her spontaneous and youthful nature, and he wants to know how she lives her life. She tells him: she’s just a normal person. That’s when he admits to her his serious condition.

And he doesn’t tell his son Michael (Barry Fishwick), who, along with his wife (Patsy Ferran), are more interested in his father’s pension than his own father. Such a loving son.

The rest of the story has his colleagues talking about the kind of person Mr. Williams was. And they vow to live up to his legacy by staying committed to their jobs. It doesn’t resort to any accusations aimed at Margaret, considering their relationship, but rather presents the supporting characters in respectful paces.

I’ve already singled out Nighy for excelling in the lead role, but credit must also go to Wood, who plays the main young woman with a strong sense, and a charming nature. And I admire how both Kazuo Ishiguro and director Oliver Hermanus give her character a bigger role.

“Living” could have been as patient as “Ikiru,” and parts aren’t understandable, but as Russian-turned-Japanese-turned-English movie, it really pays tribute to the original. My advise is to see the Japanese version before you see this one. Or if you’re into literature, too, read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” Then, you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: Drama

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