The Twilight Samurai (2002)

In Japan’s “twilight” period, during the Meiji restoration, widower, Iguchi Seibei leaves work each night at twilight to go home to his aging mother and two young daughters rather than out drinking and carousing with his coworkers. Though he’s only a low ranking soldier, the position holds more distinction better than his current duties as a warehouse bookkeeper but ut since his wife’s funeral was so expensive he cannot afford to take a new bride as he pays off the funeral expenses.

Then Tomoe, the sister of a childhood friend comes to stay to get away from her high-ranking abusive husband, who suddenly shows up in the middle of night. Seibei is forced into a duel but manages to overcome despite having the flimsier weapon. This victory wins Seibei the respect of higher ranking officials, who want him to revisit the violence of his former profession. Meanwhile, his friend urges him to marry even though it would be a mismatch; Seibei supplements his income by making bug cages in his spare time and has been neglecting his personal hygiene. However, he loves Tomoe and she’s grown fond of his senile mother and two sweet daughters. Torn between loyalties yet bound by honor and tradition, Seibei is forced to fight.

Shall We Dance? (1996)

I was disappointed when this Japanese homage to an American classic (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) was remade into an American film. How many more movies by the same name to we need?!

In the Japanese version, a businessman grows tired of his life as a corporate drone. Each commute home from work he passes a dance studio. From an excursion born of curiosity grows an obsession. Besides the lure of American culture, in which couples publicly display affection for one another, there is s excitement and glamor in playing out a famous movie scene. Eventually, the businessman’s wife realizes her husband is blossoming into a passionate and lively man, who is obvious fond of something/ someone other than her. Once she discovers the object of his attention she’s both relieved and frustrated; they should grow together not apart. Instead, he rather than share his new hobby with her, he’s kept it as a mistress.

The most recent iteration was no doubt a marketing ploy to profit from the success of its Asian counterpart. The message that Western filmmakers hoped to promote is completely opposite of the themes that can only make sense in the context of Japanese culture and thus completely loses all ability to spark discussions about tradition, cultural appropriation, etc. And no, casting a Latina-American as a lead doesn’t count for anything.

Manifesto (2015)

This movie has the audacity to be a paradox unto itself.

The filmmaker’s literal manifesto (i.e. declarative philosophical statement) about the nature of Art is embodied by various characters—all expertly portrayed by actress, Cate Blanchett—who represent striking examples of culture influencers. They each, in turn, participate in the recitation of said manifesto. Blanchett utilizes her talent and experience to remain fully in character (voice, pitch, tone, attitude, posture) as different people in different situations while the impassioned narrative continues to demonstrate each point to be made.

I’ve seen vacuous films with breathtaking cinematography. I’ve seen heart-wrenching, gut-spilling performances in the hands of an amateur director like pearls before swine. This was neither heavy-handed in its message nor obtuse in its meaning. Every element was impressively in proportion to every other and each vignette both encapsulated a specific point while contributing to the overall theme.

A thoughtful presentation of ideas that will both challenge preconceived ideas about creativity and ultimately the meaning of existence.