First the exception. In Red Persimmons, Peng Xiaolian compiles footage that the legendary late Japanese documentarist Ogawa Shinsuke shot in the 1980s while visiting a northern Japanese village whose citizens dry and sell persimmons for a living. Sound too dryly ethnographic? Ogawa's attention to detail (here fixated on handmade precision persimmon peelers) and ability to bring out warm performances from his subjects put his filmmaking in a class of its own. In one of many whiffs of Japanese New Wave nostalgia during this series, we see Ogawa explaining his documentary methods to director Oshima Nagisa. We rarely get a chance to view Ogawa's works in the United States, so don't miss this one.
The stressful world of televised women's shogi, a kind of Japanese chess, is the backdrop for a hilariously naturalistic dialogue-driven comedy of sisterly rivalry in A Woman's Work. The superb cast includes Tetsuo: Iron Man director Tsukamoto Shinya as a loving, nebbishy husband. The two ex-filmmaker slackers of Ramblers pursue a more passive-aggressive rivalry as they choose to do little in a backwater town while waiting for a mutual contact. For more surreal backwater sibling rivalry, see Bokunchi -- My House, in which two perennially abandoned boys fend for themselves on an island full of inappropriate parental substitutes. Motherly failings and redemption also turn up in Kawase Naomi's Shara, a sun- and rain-drenched tale of a boy whose twin brother has been wrenched away finding something in common with a girl who abruptly learns the true origin of her birth.
Japanese New Wave director Yoshida Kiju (Eros Plus Massacre) returns to narrative features after a long absence with his oft-paired ex-partner, Okada Mariko, in the sly and beautifully shot mystery Women in the Mirror. Okada plays a mother searching through a sleek Tokyo landscape for her lost daughter, who may or may not be a kidnapper. Her search leads her to Hiroshima, where the back story takes on distinctly Mon Amour shadings.
The infuriating, provocative Peep "TV" Show features characters more self-aware and articulate than their real-life Tokyo counterparts. Here they can find reality only in sitting slumped at a Shibuya intersection, broadcasting women's toilet visits on a Web site, or in donning hyper-Heidi gear to project sufficient (if ironic) cuteness. They're drawn to Sept. 11 imagery as an apocalypse that nourishes their stunted imaginations. Is this our 21st-century New Wave?