Could there be a greater holiday gift for a true, dyed-in-the-wool cineaste than the films of the late, great Japanese master?
But which film to give? Criterion Collection has made it easy with AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa (www.criterion.com; $399.95; not rated), a monstrously large, beautifully finished orange-and-black box containing 25 of the 30 films Kurosawa directed during his 50-year career.
Each of the discs is tucked in a handsome sleeve and all are arranged in chronological order, beginning with Kurosawa's impressive 1943 debut, Sanshiro Sugata. It was made by the then-33-year-old director only seven years after he had entered a film studio apprenticeship program. The film, which follows a young jujitsu student who discovers and is won over by a new form of martial arts, judo, spawned the 1945 sequel, Sanshiro Sugata Part II (also included).
AK-100 features most of the masterworks Kurosawa produced during his most prolific period, in the late 1940s and '50s, including the minutely detailed dramas about the broken state of postwar Japanese society, Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949); the famous meditation on perspective, Rashomon (1950); The Idiot (1951), which attempts to fit Dostoevsky's masterpiece in Japanese context; the samurai classic Seven Samurai (1954); not to mention the brilliant take on Shakespeare's Macbeth, Throne of Blood (1957).
Kurosawa may be considered a great artist, but his films appealed to a large audience.
The three-hour samurai epic Kagemusha (1980), for one, explores essential existential themes, including the nature of self-identity. But it's also an action-packed tale of political intrigue and warfare that'll keep you at the edge of your seat.
The AK-100 set also includes an illustrated 100-page book with an essay about Kurosawa's career and notes on each film. Sadly, none of the discs has the sort of special features - commentary tracks, trailers, interviews - we've come to expect from DVDs. But that's barely a minor concern given the majesty of this awe-inspiring box set.
Other gift ideas
fans, rejoice! There's much Potter-abilia this season. First off, the latest film in the series,
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
, was released this week by Warner (
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; $28.98 DVD; $35.99 Blu-ray; rated PG). Die-hard fans will gobble up a new series of
mega-sets, each with new special features - and a booklet, to boot. The first two are available, also from Warner:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Ultimate Edition
and the second film, 2002's
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Ultimate Edition
(each $39.92 DVD; $49.99 Blu-ray; both rated PG). Ultimate editions of the other films will follow.
Perennial kids' favorite Sesame Street turned 40 this year. Celebrate with Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days from the Sesame Street Workshop (http://store.sesameworkshop.org/; $29.93; not rated). The two-disc set featurs five hours of highlights from the show's history.
Jim Henson's Creature Shop (The Muppets) outdid itself with the sci-fi show Farscape, which ran for four seasons, beginning in 1999. Catch all 88 episodes with the 25-disc mega-set Farscape: The Complete Series from A&E (www.aetv.com; $149.95; not rated).
Sony (www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/) has issued two box sets that are perfect for film-noir fans. The five-disc Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1 ($59.95; not rated) features five amazing crime dramas - The Big Heat, 5 Against the House, The Lineup, Murder by Contract, and The Sniper - with commentary by Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, and Christopher Nolan.
Revel in the works of one of America's most distinctive writer-directors with the seven-film box set The Samuel Fuller Film Collection, also from Sony ($79.95; not rated). Films include Power of the Press, The Crimson Kimono, Shockproof, and Underworld U.S.A.
Fawlty Towers Remastered from BBC Video (www.bbcamericashop.com; $49.98; not rated) is a terrific gift for Anglophiles - or anyone who loves good comedy. The four-disc set includes all 12 episodes of the '70s sitcom written and starring Monty Python alum John Cleese.
Baseball fanatics will flip for the 20-disc The Official World Series Film Collection from A&E (www.aetv.com; $229.95; not rated), which features iconic moments from baseball history.
American auteur Spike Lee used 30 cameras to capture the life and work of Lower Merion High alumnus and L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant with the terrific documentary Kobe Doin' Work from Miramax (www.miramax.com; $29.99; not rated).