Midori Sawato is a benshi, a unique kind of performer who provides live narration to silent films at the movie theater. The benshi brings the characters in films alive using different voices and vocal expressions. They sit to the side of the screen, watching the movie with the audience and using their versatility and talent to act out each character. Benshi often work with a small orchestra, which provides the musical accompaniment. In Japan, there are probably 10 benshi still active and Sawato is by far the most famous among them. For her fantastic performances she has received many accolades, among them the Japan Film Pen Club Prize in 1990, The Japan Movie Critics Award Golden Glory Prize in 1995, and in 2002 the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs' National Arts Festival Award. In 2010 she was named Master of Sound by the Japan Audio Society. Sawato's repertoire includes more than 500 of the greatest silent films from all over the world. This year, she celebrates 40 years of acting and will share some of her favorite roles in a keenly awaited performance at 6 p.m. on Dec. 29 at Kinokuniya Hall in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.

Charlie Chaplin could tell a story with his eyes, without ever uttering a word. We could feel human suffering just by observing his tragic stare at food when his character was hungry. His eyes were windows into the complexity of human emotions. In his 1925 movie "The Gold Rush," Chaplin was mistaken for a chicken by his hungry roommate. That scene is the most brilliant portrayal of how scary yet utterly hilarious human relationships are.

Times change but people's lives remain the same: very tough. The movies of Yasujiro Ozu, whether his masterpiece "Tokyo Story" or his other genius works, make us understand how hard our existence really is. Everywhere in the world people make families, get jobs, struggle with hierarchy and lose out — mostly. But there are short, happy moments that keep us going. In his 1932 classic silent film "I Was Born, But ...," we meet a salaryman who feels pressured to get promoted, so at work he does just about anything to please his boss. By chance, his young sons witness their father acting foolish within the company, and with the innocence of children, they promptly lose respect for their father. You must watch this fantastic film to appreciate how much Ozu loved and understood people. There is nothing outdated about this film. The same thing happens every day, in every city around the world.