In a departure from his acclaimed horror films Cure (1997) and Charisma (1998), Kiyoshi Kurosawa's License to Live is a gentle family melodrama that doubles as a meditation on personal identity. The film focuses on Yutaka (Hidetoshi Nishijima), the victim of an ugly car accident who suddenly wakes up from a 10-year coma.
He soon discovers that his world has been turned upside-down in the intervening years. His formerly close-knit family has parted ways and his family home has been turned into a low-rent fish farm and industrial dumping ground by Fujimoto (Koji Yakusho), a gruff huckster friend of his father.
Though Yutaka moves back into his family home, he is left feeling confused and unsettled, helped only by Fujimoto, who reluctantly serves as pseudo-father. Yutaka tries to pick up where he left off, but his attempts at meeting old friends and family members leave him feeling only more isolated.
In a last-ditch attempt to reclaim his past, he reopens the pony ranch run by his financially incompetent father when he was a child.
For a time, his mother Sachiko (Lily) and his sister Chizuru (Kumiko Asou) return to the homestead, and a semblance of the old family begins to cohere -- until a surprising, emotional twist forces Yutaka to realize that he must move on. As in his other films, Kurosawa couches metaphysical themes of identity and mortality in an engaging genre vehicle.
Yet this work displays a strikingly minimalist style and a deft use of mood and pacing that point toward a greater maturity. This film was screened at the 1999 Toronto Film Festival as part of the Director's Spotlight.