Lessons from Ikuru

I moved to the suburbs this summer. We have a lovely local multiplex brimming with disrespectful teens, all bumping into their elders like mad, iPhone-addled pinballs. I’ve been aging. I normally go to double features, beginning at the highly reasonable hour of 5 pm, at Stanford Theater. The movies are old, the patrons older still.

Since pushing off on my inexorable march to the suburbs, I’ve missed San Francisco, my frumpy, unwashed, urine-drenched postcard home for 13 years. My soul has been sold (actually, I paid a hefty price just to move my soul to a second-rate ‘burb with mediocre schools). I believe this is called a phase of life. In 1996, I arrived on the shores of California by land (think about that), prepared to toil aimlessly for years until some bright New York publisher saw fit to publish my Bildungsroman, the greatest crappy first novel ever put to pixels. Five years later, I woke up fat, unpublished, and employed by an investment bank. Now I’m one of those middle-aged yuppies I’ve always despised, and I can’t do anything but try to make middle-aged yuppies seem really cool. I go so far out of my way to be nice and prove that yuppies are wonderful that the people I love end up hating me.

We will pretend that this is important, but it's not important.
We will pretend that this is important, but it’s not important.

My stomach now aches some ambient ache, a tangy fear metastasizing in my dulling imagination. I’m nervous, about nothing, in this comfortable modern American life. I don’t know what you could do, dear reader, but please help me.

“We’ve got to be greedy about life,” says the woman in the film Ikuru (“to live”),directed by Akira Kurosawa. I like that. The rented DVD of this film gathered dust for nearly two months (as DVDs do these days) before I concocted the right mood for subtitles. I used to engorge myself on the early days of international Criterion fare daily, when using the term “Netflix” still generated confusion and anger. I’m not waiting three days for a DVD! What if it breaks and I get blamed?? I don’t even have a DVD player yet! I like going to Blockbuster!

The film concerns a man who punches the clock at a meaningless government job until he gets word of his stomach cancer. From there, as the title suggests, he decides to live, and live fully, boozing, womanizing, and constructing a park, an enduring testament to his nearly wasted life. His coworkers remember him fondly, despite the fact he failed to show up for work for the last months of his life.

I have two aging, relatively unhealthy parents. I see it. I get it. We’ll all be there at some point, repeating questions, fearing forks, completely vulnerable. We’ll be dependent on selfish, yuppie jerks for care and sustenance. We’ll need help, to live.

Until then, the waves of suburbia mercilessly pound our hollow souls, sometimes in the form of cantankerous ground squirrels that dig up our yards and leave our insulation strewn about. We buy traps and stinky sprays and scary fake owls. We do our best, knowing that more squirrels will come.

We’ve got to be greedy about life.

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