Ikiru (1952)

Akira Kurosawa is by far one of the most brilliant storytellers of the 21st century. He is most well known for his movies focusing on the samurai way of life, which includes a great deal of bravery and loyalty. Ikiru is one of the few films set in the modern era that Kurosawa directed. However, the main character also displays a great deal of bravery in becoming who we all as humans aspire to become – our true selves.

Kanji Watanabe is the main character, portrayed by Takashi Shimura, who has carried out the same routine in his mundane office job at the Tokyo City Council for 30 years. His greatest achievement was not missing a day of work. Everyone at the office followed the standard bureaucratic procedures. Watanabe is diagnosed with stomach cancer, and goes on a journey of self-discovery throughout the film. He comes to the realization that anyone can follow their passion and have a positive impact on the world regardless of age. His family, friends, and co-workers are quite astonished regarding Watanabe’s sudden character change, and they also embark on a journey to understand his motives and reasoning behind his actions.

The title of the film translated from Japanese to English is “To Live”, which is highly applicable to the plot. There are so many answers to this question and it is debatable as to the most appropriate answer. I believe that truly living involves being engulfed in the moment, as well as being able to identify your values and pursue your passions. It has taken me some time to begin to answer those questions and to act on them, and it is part of the process of living. Watanabe suppressed that process for quite a while, I believe, until he was faced with the possibility of not being able to live his truth. Perhaps that is why so many around him were confused by his actions – why break the status quo and change your routine in life? Well, if someone is not fulfilled by their life course, then it is paramount that they re-examine their trajectory and try to change it. Watanabe was very courageous in tackling that concept as well as facing death. His actions display that we all as humans are valued members of Planet Earth, and that we can all be contributing members of society by living our truths.

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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Silent film is definitely an art form which is definitely not as prominent as it once was. After all, with all of the technology in film these days and the blustering sound effects, why even bother? Well, silent film reminds us that storytelling can be as simple as paying attention to the emotions conveyed through a face. No other film does this better than “The Passion of Joan of Arc” directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1928.

The screenplay of the film displayed on title cards is based on the transcripts from Joan of Arc’s trial, for which she was accused of heresy and was unfortunately convicted of the same and executed at the very young age of 19. The story is quite bleak and the sets/backgrounds of the movie are quite minimalistic, reflecting the stark realities of Joan’s impending doom. Thus, the movie is carried on the intense emotion and conflict conveyed between Joan and her accusers, as well as the deep sympathy the people of France felt for Joan upon her death. It also highlights the continued battle in all societies regarding upholding the ideals of longstanding institutions by those with vested interests versus those who pose a threat to what those institutions stand for (the contents of this sentence could be a post on its own). At the centre of this all was Joan, portrayed by Renee Falconetti. I have never seen a thespian in the silent or sound era express more emotion than she did in her performance. You as the viewer go on a journey with her as she expresses hope, sadness, fear, bravery, and a sense of resolution through her conviction of portraying the role quite sincerely. The contingency and continuity of emotions in the film were only amplified by the cinematography – a multitude of close-up shots focusing on the facial expressions of the characters and not so much their surrounding environments.

The title reflects a steadfast and defiant teenager who consistently conveyed her compelling connection with God, as well as her conviction as an ambassador to France. Some historians suggest that Joan may have been suffering from a psychotic illness, and she may have been based on potential delusions of grandeur with religious content. Whatever is true, Joan of Arc sacrificed her life for the people of France, and her dignity and bravery will be celebrated for generations to come through the brilliance of this film.

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I do not own the above image.