As with Drunken Angel and High and Low, Kurosawa choose to break Ikiru in half. Like many other Kurosawa films, the discussion here is between real and illusion. In the first half, we see what is real- our hero’s reactions to his approaching death. The second half is illusion- the reactions of others, their excuses and their rejections. Perhaps for this very reason, the camerawork in the first half and that in the second half is different.
First half depicts reality, and the camerawork here is realistic. The second half, on the other hand is fantasy, and hence in it’s true sense the camerawork is fantastic. The film begins with a close-up of our hero’s x-ray. We are thus shown our hero’s inside before we are shown his outside- we are shown the cancer that defines the man. Then, for the first half of the film, we are shown the hero’s body and what he does. In the second half, the body has disappeared and we are shown- through conversation of others- his soul.
In the first half, there is enormous use of mirrors, reflecting surfaces, the shiny automobiles, prisms- all those things which reflect or distort reality. Another compositional aspect of the film’s first half is music. There is music everywhere, which is often ironic. There is also constant motion- flash pans, elevators, dollies- all that depict life. The second half of the film is almost all in our hero’s room. There is very little motion, and has none of the visual prodigality of the first half. First and second half complement each other on the compositional grounds.
Note- The other interesting compositional aspect is how the narrater refers to Watanabe as hero. There is nothing heroic about the character if you compare this with the flawless Samurais Kurosawa created. But as the film proceeds, we get to know why Watanabe is the only person referred to as hero in Kurosawa’s films.