Did Akira Kurosawa’s IKIRU Directly Inspire BREAKING BAD?
…uh, apparently. funny you should ask.
Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, was recently a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air, and during the show — unprompted — he launched into this lightly reverential aside about how Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece IKIRU informed Gilligan’s sensational AMC show. it’s fascinating to hear him unpack the parallels between Watanabe-san and Walter White, to see how one idea was contorted and disfigured into something so sinister, but due caution to those unfamiliar with the ending of IKIRU:
"There’s a wonderful Kurosawa movie from the 50s in which a man, a mid-level, very much a Walter White-type, or rather, Walter White, I suppose, inspired by this man. This man is very much a mid-level corporate guy who finds out he’s dying of cancer. And in the last months of his life what he chooses to do is a very good thing, it’s to build is playground, a small playground in Tokyo for the children in his neighborhood.
And this haunting ending of this movie is this man swinging on a swing set in this playground that he’s managed to build after a surprisingly hard go of it. And the snow is coming down and he singing a Japanese children’s song, and it’s just haunting and beautiful. And, of course, Breaking Bad is anything but that. It’s the flip side of that. It’s a man doing terrible things once he is freed by this knowledge that he does not have long for this world.
But I think what the two stories to share in a sense is the idea that if we found out the exact expiration date on our lives if we found out when we were going to be checking out, would that free us up to do bold and courageous things, either good or bad things, hopefully good things, then I think there’s a lot of that involved in Breaking Bad.”