Blu-ray: Ikiru (Criterion)



English Blu-ray Title (Region A)



Japanese (1.0 Mono)

Aspect Ratio:

143 minutes
1.37:1 Anamorphic





  • Menus (English)
  • Chapters (24)
  • Trailers: Ikiru
  • Audio Commentary by Stephen Prince
  • Documentary on Akira Kurosawa, A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Movies (81 minutes)
  • Documentary on Ikiru, from Toho's Masterworks, with interviews from the staff (41 minutes)
  • To Live booklet excerpt by Donald Richie



By: Anthony Romero

Criterion continues to dip into the vault of past films they have released to DVD, giving them much improved Blu-ray releases alongside enhanced DVD releases. This Blu-ray of the 1952 movie Ikiru is much needed, as the earlier edition, while packed with extras, was sporting some very overt print damage. While the version on this Blu-ray is not perfect, still with notable print damage on the video track and some moments of lacking audio quality, it's a huge improvement due to restoration efforts. It does, though, feature the same exact extras as the earlier release, which while numerous might disappoint some fans who are upgrading.

 Video: Star Rating

Wow... Criterion has done a solid job restoring the movie. While it doesn't measure up to their restoration of Seven Samurai (1954), it's still some stellar work. Sadly, the original negative of Ikiru no longer exists, or is in some hidden vault at Toho that they haven't unearthed yet. As a result, Criterion worked with a 35mm fine-grain master positive. This led into a lot of manual and automated work to restore the movie, and the results show. The movie looks so much better than the earlier DVD releases. Blacks are richer, print damage is greatly reduced, stability issues are fixed and there is good clarity in the details as well.

That said, it's still got scratches, especially as the movie reaches toward the two hour mark. Some of the transitions are still very damaged as well. While the quality is night and day from the DVD release, it's still showing its age. I wanted to give this a higher score in the video department, because again Criterion did a great job, but for someone approaching this without the context of older home video releases they will still detect the remaining signs of print damage here.

Ikiru is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.


 Audio: Star Rating

's earlier audio quality on home video was lacking. While Criterion did some great restoration on the audio track, sounding much better than it did, it still has issues. Dialogue, though, comes through much clearer although not perfect at moments. Issues with the levels from earlier releases are also corrected, so loud peaks don't sound overly harsh. That said, there are some moments in the movie where the audio still sounds very harsh, and the most obvious example is during the opening title scene where Fumio Hayasaka's music swells. Oddly, this is an issue that could have easily been corrected, at least for this sequence, by using the soundtrack master available. Toho released Ikiru / Record of a Living Being / The Lower Depths on CD back in 2001, and features a good quality version of the opening title. While purists might call foul, the opening has no dialogue or sound effects and could easily have been swapped for whatever version of this theme Toho had. The reason why I stress this is because it's the most overt part of the audio track that sounds damaged, and happens at the start of the film as well so it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The audio track is presented in mono, in a one channel mode matching its original presentation. The disc comes with optional English subtitles.


 Extras: Star Rating

To cut to the chase, Criterion has duplicated the extras found on their first DVD release of the movie. On one hand, that's great as those extras were above and beyond. On the other hand, anyone who already had that set and is upgrading to the Blu-ray release might be disappointed. Regardless, the quality of extras is great so it gets high marks. Plus the bonus features are presented in high definition here, although the quality looks like the material was standard definition and blown up.

First up is the movie's trailer. Given the age of the movie, it's likely not surprising that the trailer isn't in the best shape. The audio is harsh, with crackles and overt distortion heard in the dialogue. The video track also sports a lot of film damage in terms of scratches, while it's too dark as well. All the same, it's good to have the trailer included here, especially as it has some footage not used in the movie.

Next is an audio commentary track with Stephen Prince. This gives insight into the production and the director's techniques. This is very informative, although does present and interpret details in a certain. As a result, although I don't imagine anyone would, I would highly suggest watching the movie first and gauging events for yourself before hearing Prince's take on events. That's not to say he says anything wrong, but does interpret things in his own way, without direct insight from the staff, while I think the viewer should also do the same before hearing his take.

Following this is the 81 minute documentary on Kurosawa from 2000, made about two years after his death. Titled A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Movies, this is a very in-depth examination of the director and his final movies, Rhapsody in August and Madadayo (1993). My only complaint is, given the focus on those later movies, it probably would have done better combined with them. That said, Criterion has never released either on home video, so this is as good a release as any to stick it on and does give a good rundown on the background and history of the director. This extra is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

Next up is the best extra from this release, which actually is derived from Toho's region 2 DVD release of the movie. This is a 41 minute documentary on the movie, as part of the Masterworks series, which interviews staff behind the film while combining this with archive footage from interviews with the director and lead actor Takashi Shimura. The extra is overflowing with information on the production, from cinematography techniques to special effects. It's got some wonderful moments as well, such as when Kurosawa is joyous as he does a version of "The Glow of the Fireflies" song to mimic what happens during the funeral in the movie. Since Kurosawa often comes off as reserved, seeing him so joyous here is quite rare. This feature is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

Finally comes the booklet to the Blu-ray. Criterion has a habit of sometimes stocking this with added detail, and their Ikiru release is no exception. Included is an excerpt from Donald Richie's 1965 book The Films of Akira Kurosawa. This is about 3 pages long. An additional 2015 written piece is also included from critic Pico Iyer followed by some details on the transfer.


 Overview: Star Rating

This is currently the best release of the 1952 movie on home video. Given how classic the movie is, the restoration here, while not perfect, was a long time coming and great to see it done in Criterion's capable hands.

As for fans who have the earlier editions and wondering if this is worth the upgrade, I would say yes. If you have the Essential Art House: Ikiru DVD that becomes an easier answer, as not only does this feature improved video and audio quality but extras that weren't previously available. If you have the two disc set, I would still say the answer is yes, although would be more dependent on priorities in your collection and love of the movie.