Who's In It: Issey Ogata
The Basics: It's 1945 and the divine Emperor Hirohito (Japanese at the time considered him not human, but a descendent of the sun goddess) is ceding control to the Americans at the end of World War II. And while he seems almost eager to do this, he's still a man in mourning, sheltered by his servants and his daily routine into a benign existence, conducting marine biology studies and indulging in scheduled "time for private thought" and regular naps. So when the time comes to surrender his country's power, he's utterly baffled as to what kind of real human life he's supposed to inhabit next.
What's The Deal: This isn't a biopic; it's a stunningly odd, dark, psychological immersion, like getting to see inside the mind of a weird trapped passive animal. Issey Ogata's Emperor is so confused about how to accept his fate that, in a scene where his advisors bring him news of the war and attempt to beat back their own humiliated tears, all he can do is stare down at the table where they sit and fidget with the patterned tablecloth. And when meeting with General Douglas MacArthur, he can't figure out how to operate a doorknob (servants have always done that for him). His every move is awkward and unsure, his lips never stop quivering and his mouth-breathing face remains uneasily blank from start to finish. When you forget everything else about the film you'll remember that face.
Origins: From Russia's Alexandr Sokurov and it's the third film in a trilogy about Men Of Power (1999's Moloch was about Hitler, 2001's Taurus was about Lenin). Sokurov is a guy whose job in life is to be one of those directors whose work people refer to as "cinema." If you never think of movies as high art then he might not be your thing (and that's just going to remain your own dumb problem). For the rest of you, dive right in, be ready to exercise patience and give him all of your attention. He's a slow-moving, deliberate, sometimes inscrutable filmmaker, but you'll be glad you found him.
See Also: The almost painfully intimate Mother and Son and Father and Son. And if you can find it on a big screen somewhere, don't miss the eye-popping, shot-in-a-single-take Russian Ark.