d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #221
Ikiru, directed by Akira Kurosawa, must be one of the most "Criterion Collection" titles within the Criterion Collection, since it satisfies virtually every criterion used to select films for the Criterion Collection AND because it also exemplifies those criterion. If you wanted to describe a generic film that would be included in the Criterion Collection, you would describe Ikiru. As the Criterion Collection product description page puts it, Ikiru is "[c]onsidered by some to be Kurosawa's greatest achievement." By whom, exactly? Ikiru is a work by an acknowledged master of a Foreign cinematic tradition, it is two and half hours long, it wasn't a hit in the United States upon initial release, it's about a guy with stomach cancer, it uses flashbacks and stylized mise en scene to tell a multi-faceted story about the protagonist.
Ikiru has all the qualities that make the Criterion Collection the Criterion Collection, and it also has all the qualities that make the films of Akira Kurosawa the films of Akira Kurosawa, and they are essentially the same qualities. One of the questions I've begun to ponder as I move into double digits with Kurosawa films is where the Western influence stops and the Japanese contribution begins. Of course, Western scholars have historically dwelled on the influence on Kurosawa by Western film, but he was very much a product of Japan and its film culture.
It is easy to see the Japanese contribution in his selection of subjects, which adheres to the Japanese distinction between Jidaigeki and Gendaigeki. The former of these are historical drama (including Samurai films) and the latter are drama's set in the present day. Whereas Western watchers may interpret Kurosawa's Samurai pictures as his take on the Hollywood Western, Japanese watchers will see a typical Jidaigeki influence by American director John Ford. Similarly, a movie like Stray Dogs, which will remind Western watchers of a police procedural/detective story, is a well executed Gendaigeki for Japanese audiences.
Japanese Gendaigeki differ from Western melodrama in that they are less often centered around the traditional Anglo-Western marriage plot, and typically don't deal with the drama of wealthy elites. Rather, the characters are typically normally people, with normal concerns. This day-to-day earthiness can perhaps be explained by Japanese filmmakers being less convinced of the merit of the Romance as a genre. I think it's almost impossible for Western audiences to conceive of a world where the Romance isn't the primary influence on domestic drama in filmed art. With Kurosawa and Japanese filmmaking you have a whole artistic universe not subject to the limiting dictates of romantic artistic convention.
This discussion is appropriate for a discussion of Ikiru because the story of a man dying of stomach cancer, with no wife and an estranged son, is the polar opposite of a romantic story. Literally about death and bureaucracy, Ikiru could only exist outside the world of Western art. One of the major "character traits" of Japanese culture that I've picked up from Japanese film is the deep fatalism of its hero's, and Ikiru is remarkable in that it depicts someone struggling against his destiny, and doing something other than submitting meekly to his preordained fate (dying of stomach cancer.)