Director Akira Kurosawa, known for Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, here unspools a work of compassion.
An ordinary white collar worker (Takashi Shimura), an aging head of a public work’s bureau, finds he has cancer and a few months to live. He tells nobody but finds that he is really alone and estranged from his son and daughter-in-law. He suddenly sees that his life has been dull and useless, wasted in an office from which he has not been absent in 30 years.
He draws out his money and goes out into the Tokyo night. He meets a deadbeat poet in whom he confides. They go out on the town.
He goes home where his uncomprehending son (Nobuo Kaneko) reproaches him. Meeting one of his office girls (Miki Odagiri) he finds her new job, that of making toys for children, gives him a sudden goal. He pushes a needed children’s playground through all the bureaucratic red tape.
Half of the film is told in the third person and half is his sacrifice as seen through the eyes of guests at his funeral. Kurosawa performs a tour-de-force in keeping a dramatic thread throughout and avoiding the mawkish. It is technically excellent with a telling Occidental-type musical score.