Directed by Oliver Hermanus, Living is adapted from 1952 Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) by screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, who set the story in London, England, circa 1953. It’s a moving story about finding purpose in life anchored by the exquisite metamorphosis of Bill Nighy’s lead performance.
The film opens as Mr. Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp) starts his first day of work in London’s Public Works department. His first task is to escort three ladies and their petition for a child’s playground around the building to different departments who are supposed to deal with it first, showing him, the ladies, and the viewer that passing the buck is one of the few things affecting the static nature of bureaucracy.
The supervisor of Wakeling’s department is Mr. Rodney Williams (Nighy). He leaves early for an appointment where he discovers he has six to nine months to live. Skipping his next day of work, an oddity for him, he meets a Bohemian playwright (Tom Burke) who shows him rare sights around town. The following day, also away from work, he encounters Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), a subordinate who was hoping for a recommendation for another job. He takes her to lunch to make up for the delay his absence caused. Her youthful spirit and gaiety he finds appealing and looks for more ways to spend time with her.
Inspiration hits and Rodney decides to get the playground built, understanding the inner working and how to use his personal capital at work to get it complete. His co-workers reminisce about the change they saw in him, the happiness he gained from purpose. Slowly, they see him as an inspiration in their dreary jobs and decide to follow his example moving forward. Hard as audience member not to see him the same way.
Nighy gives a masterful performance as Williams. Starting shy and reserved as a government paper-pusher living the routine of his life without connection to anyone since the loss of his wife, not even his son and daughter-in-law who live with him. That icy exterior slowly melts over the course of the film and Nighy plays Williams almost as a different person. The way he carries himself and speaks, becoming a noticeable presence. Even his face looks different.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.48:1. A lot of locations in Williams’s daily life are filled with neutral colors. Browns appear in lush hues. As he breaks from his routine, the production design team breaks from theirs and expand the color pallete, and with primary colors popping. Blacks are inky. The image delivers fine texture detail consistently. All the men’s suits show off their thin stripes without any wavering. Sunlight blooms through windows but those appear intentional.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for an effective, but not showy track. Dialogue is clear. Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s score plays in the surrounds and limited ambient effects can be heard. Aside from the trailer, the lone Special Feature is “A Life Semi-Lived” (5 min), a way to brief featurette of the film that deserves to be explored much more.
While it doesn’t supersede Ikiru, Living shows how universal the story is by placing it within a British setting and succeeding there as well. And aside from some visual cues, it could easily have been set in present day as it offers an important theme that, unfortunately for humans, seems forever to be timeless. Nighy gives one of the best performances of the century, easy to overlook because of its subtlety as many award-givers, -voters, and pundits did. Hopefully the Blu-ray will help it find the bigger audience it deserves.