Social work and end-of-life care

Social work is important in end-of-life care

Ikiru by Kurosawa: living (with a cancer diagnosis) until you die means using yourself

leave a comment »

A relative who thinks I’m more intellectual than I am gave me a box set of Kurosawa dvds from the British Film Institute. You know how it is with presents, you have to do the business, so I’ve started watching them.

And got no further than the first, Ikiru, made in 1952. Ikiru means ‘Living’ or perhaps ‘To live’. The dvd comes with a lecture from a BFI film critic with a very colourful shirt. The story, briefly, is about a long-widowed bureaucrat, who has spent his life paper-shuffling and not really responding to the needs of his community. The doctors do not tell him, but he finds he has a terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer. No I’m not going into a diatribe about how doctors should tell the truth; I think that depends on the circumstances, although at this time in Japan Kurosawa obviously judged that there was a policy of not telling people.

The bureaucrat goes on the lam: he tries drinking more luxurious liquor than he usually does, and goes out on the town trying out prostitutes, and forms a fatherly relationship with a young girl, through whom he learns that he wants to change what’s left of his life. Returning to work the next day, he says that to get a children’s playground for local community campaigners requires a proactive approach, and he sweeps out of the office, scattering a trail of astonished bureaucrats in his slipstream.

The next scene is his funeral wake. He has died in the snow on a swing in the playground. Almost half the film is the people at the wake arguing about his achievement, and whether it came about because he knew he was dying. In a series of flashbacks they tell the story of his persistence in using his understanding of the bureaucratic system to get the playground built.

I think the multi-coloured-shirted one rather misses the point of the message about living until you die. If you are really going to live, there is no point in trying to have all sorts of what other people tell you are wonderful experiences. The message of the film is that really living until the moment you die is about using yourself, your skills and what you have made of your life to achieve something.

And better, too, I say as a social worker with a strong belief in the value of supporting community endeavour, to do it in such a way that it helps others achieve things through mutual assistance.

Link to a film blog about Kurosawa, from which I nicked the picture of the bureaucrat’s death.


Written by Malcolm Payne

29 November 2012 at 12:31 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s