Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
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Tetsuro Tanba, best known to international audiences as Tiger Tanaka in the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice", gives a riveting performance as Josei Toda, the leader of Soka Gakkai, an organization dedicated to spreading the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.
I'm a former adherent of this sect, so my memories of the film are colored by a believer's perspective. However, Tanba (who reprised the role in a sequel not listed here) was not a believer and in fact described himself as an atheist. This is a movie with high production values and a strong storyline.
Toda joined Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society) before World War II and was imprisoned as a thought criminal during the war, along with his mentor Makiguchi, who died in prison. Toda attains a state of enlightenment and after the war, revives Soka Gakkai and establishes it as a major force in Japanese religion.
This is a lot more absorbing than you might think. It spends some time describing the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism, but Tanba's performance keeps the story going, and it's impressive how he "feels" the material.
It's doubtful this will ever be made available in the United States. I saw it at a special showing arranged by Soka Gakkai back in 1974; it was in Japanese with English subtitles. It's hard to see it having a wide appeal here, as religious films generally have to be Christian to attract an audience in the U.S., but it's a shame, because it presents its message without badgering and is a powerful emotional experience. I don't believe in this stuff anymore, but there are some fascinating ideas in it.
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