An office is filled with documents building upon quiet workers in a Japanese town of soiled streets, construction, and low living standards.
Among the mundane officials is the central figure who is introduced as Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a middle aged man diagnosed with stomach cancer. He has less than a year to live. The result leaves him not only scared but also lost and disoriented with his personal life. His son Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko) evinces a lacking emotional connection. But a slacker novelist is spellbound by Kanji’s desperation and understands his need. And a coworker named Toyo (Miki Odagiri) makes him remember about having a sense of humor. Until all his thoughts click, and Kanji decides to concentrate his cause on building a neighborhood park to grant the wishes of its residents.
Through the experiences of Kanji, the state of life is seen as sad, self -serving, and meaningless. Bureaucrats at his office complacently give runarounds to town residents. His son Mitsuo handles the news of his illness in a business manner, assessing the worth of his retirement funds. In their interactions, the value of familial ties is evoked and how tragic relationships can turn if not nurtured. Kanji’s coworker Toyo laughs about her repetitive job and how she refuses to take vacations for fear that her position will be discovered to be unnecessary. The troubled slacker finds a fascination with Kanji sharing a kinship in their common search for meaning.
Kanji faces a reality as if he had woken from a slumber. He goes on an indefinite leave of absence from work and begins wandering for personal truth. The values of his work have retrograded to those of bureaucrats interested only in protecting their employment; Personal ambition above public welfare. When realizing that he has been part of the cycle, is when he learns how life is short and his function is purposeless. He is filled with regret and admission of fault. Directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa this is a film about the purpose of life through the regrets and resolution of its lead character.