Looks like I'm having a mini Kurosawa Film Festival here.
"Ikiru" was filmed in 1952, seven years after the Japanese war machine was forcibly shut down, but the only reference to "that war" is made in a brief flashback in which the protagonist sees his son off at the train station as the latter is sent to the frontline. The fact that the movie avoids dealing with the macro historical psyche of a nation that suffered greatly in a horrible war on many levels (which we won't get into here) is probably a good thing, because it can then focus on telling an intimate human story about an old rubber-stamping career civil servant who discovers that he has cancer and only six months to live.
The premise of the film is simple, but leave it to Kurosawa to surprise us with twists and turns in this rather solemn drama that has a universal theme -- wage-earners questioning the existential significance of their lives. Kurosawa again demonstrates his talent in having multiple characters, each one in three-dimensional sophistication. He's also great at balancing boisterous scenes with long quiet sequences of pure visuals. As always, I learn plenty of lessons on narrative art just by watching his movies, over and over.