Kazoku / Where Spring Comes Late literally A Family (Yoji Yamada, 1970)
This early Yamada film tells the story of a Catholic family from a village near Nagasaki (Kyushu) that moves to Hokkaido. The father of the family (Hisashi Igawa) decides his mining job is a dead end, and decides to join some fellow villagers who have already moved to Japan's far north to establish a farming community. So he, his wife (Chieko Baisho), their toddler, their new baby and Grandpa (Chishu Ryu) set off -- by a variety of ferries and trains (big and small) -- for their new home. Set right at the time the film was made (they spend a bit of time in Osaka gawking at Expo 70, the world's fair then taking place in Japan), large sections of this film look and feel very much like a documentary. The family's trip is long and eventful -- and at one point moves into extreme melodrama. A fascinating glimpse of everyday Japan at the dawn of the 70s, it is not quite as polished as Kokyô / Home from the Sea (which featured the same trio of lead performers), but is still well worth seeing.
Dauntaun hirozu / Downtown Heroes (Yoji Yamada, 1988)
Set on Shikoku in 1948, this chronicles the last year of an old-style (German-modeled) boy's residential high school. The film centers on several of the male students -- and two young women who complicate their lives. The first is a young prostitute (Eri Ishida) who they rescue (and hide) from her yakuza pimp and his gang of thugs. The other is a student from the local girls' high school (the young , but already veteran, Hiroko Yakushimaru). The center-piece of the film is a dramatic piece (an Alpine melodrama of some sort, written by one of the students) to be staged at the annual cultural festival. Kiyoshi Atsumi (better known as Tora-san) plays a school janitor and cook -- who elbows his way into the production as an old Gypsy woman -- and proceeds to mug shamelessly. A very engaging and likeable little film -- but I never could figure out the relevance of its title (as this is a decidedly un-urban film).
Am zin / Running Out Of Time (Johnnie To, 1999)
A re-viewing of one of my favorite To films (first watched when two of our children were away for the summer, working as camp counselors). Andy Lau is excellent as a master thief whose time is running out (due terminal cancer) who plays a high-stakes cat and mouse game with an ace police negotiator (LAU Ching Wan) -- in order to avenge the death of his father at the hands of gangsters. One of To's best "action" films -- as usual offering a lot more than mere action.