Videos Showcase Japanese Culture

Moviegoers who'd like to broaden their horizons by viewing Japanese films have plenty of opportunities, since many are available on video. Home Vision Cinema has been a leader in this field, releasing classics by some of Japan's most internationally acclaimed directors.

None is more beloved than Kenji Mizoguchi, whose 1939 drama "The Story of the Late Chrysanthemum" tells the bittersweet tale of a servant who sacrifices her happiness to help a young kabuki actor reach a successful life. Mizoguchi's graceful style also enriches the 1952 drama "Life of Oharu," which focuses his legendary compassion for women on the story of a courtier whose fall from respectability is sparked by social forces beyond her control.

Another quintessentially Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu, directed the colorful family comedy "Good Morning," about two children who flummox their household by giving their parents a "silent treatment" that goes on for days. No filmmaker of any country shows a greater understanding of how people reach for moments of happiness in the most ordinary circumstances.

More brisk and outrageous are the movies of Seijun Suzuki, who unfolds wild and woolly yarns through an explosive camera style. "Tokyo Drifter" and "Branded to Kill," both produced in the mid-'60s, follow the exploits of gangsters in trouble with their own mobs. Made for adventurous tastes only, they show a side of Japanese culture that the subtleties of Mizoguchi and Ozu only hint at. So does the famed "Onibaba," a mid-'60s melodrama by Kaneto Shindo about two women struggling for survival in medieval Japan, etched with a ferocity that few filmmakers have surpassed.

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