Many years ago, a noted observer referred to television programming as a “vast wasteland”, a description that most of us would, I believe, also apply to the January through May distribution pattern of theatrical movies.

Every year, the pickings get slimmer and slimmer during this time, don’t they? Hollywood seems to have decided a few years ago that there’s only so much “quality” that we as an audience can stand so they telescope most of those films first into the summer and then into the October-December period so as to qualify for Academy Awards. Then they abandon us completely for at least 5 or 6 months until the summer rolls around again when, for those of us who grew up with and love movies, we are so starved for films that almost anything will do!

At least, in 2004, we had the brilliant ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND in February but– this year? Hollywood and even the major independents seem to drag every shallow comedy and cheap thriller from their vaults and dump them into this period of time each year. That decision really provides no problem for mainstream critics. They just take out their very sharp-edged pens and attack the films for being as innocuous and banal as most–if not all–of them are. For me, however, it provides a different challenge because it is the focus of this column to discuss only positive film recommendations and leave negative film reviews to others. In the 3 years that I have been writing this column, I only once departed from that format.

So…what to do?

Turn negative?

Write the column only on an irregular basis when there is a notable film to illuminate?

Or make another shift?

I have chosen to pursue the latter option.

When there are no new films to discuss that are opening a national basis, I have decided, from time to time, to focus on more classic films in Spiritual Cinema with which you may not necessarily be familiar and which you can rent or purchase on DVD.

So, this month, let’s take a journey into AFTERLIFE, a Japanese film that was released in America in 2000 that is pure and simple genius.

The premise is simple. After you die, you must choose one memory from your life and then spend eternity in that memory.

The film takes place at a way station in the afterlife where people are given a week to choose that one memory and then they supervise the recreation of the memory so that they can live within it.

The choices are all poignant.

— a man chooses the moment in which he enjoyed his first taste of salted rice after almost starving to death in World War Two.

— a woman chooses the moment of birthing her child

—a woman chooses the moment she is reunited with her fiancée after the war.

By the way, no one chooses a work-related memory. As the old saying goes, no one ever says at the end of life that they wish they had spent more time at the office.

They are told that they MUST choose a memory; however, it is revealed late in the film that all the people working in the way station are there so that they can help others remember because they themselves either couldn't or wouldn't choose a memory themselves.

The most moving story in the film involves an elderly businessman who led such a "so-so" life that he can't choose. His was an arranged marriage and they were never passionate with each other. She had a fiancé who was killed in the war and whom was the love of her life. The choice that is made here is beautiful, poignant, and very resonant with the very nature of spiritual cinema.

If we knew that we would have but one memory to keep with us for eternity, that awareness would make each moment of life much more precious.

Spiritual Cinema asks two eternal questions:

Who are we and why are we here?

So….which memory would you choose?

(Stephen Simon produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, produced and directed Indigo, and will next be directing and producing the film version of Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God. He also wrote The Force is With You: Mystical Movie Messages That Inspire Our Lives and co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle. Stephen welcomes your comments by email:

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