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.
Criterion Collection (www.criterion.com) also has available a number of more affordable box sets containing classics from the history of world cinema.
Start with Criterion Collection Essential Art House, a series of six-film DVD sets featuring films by the likes of Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir, Jean Cocteau, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman and, of course, Akira Kurosawa. Four volumes have been released so far. Each boxed set costs $99.95. (Films also available for $19.95 each.) Check Criterion's Web site for details about each volume.
Even more affordable, Criterion's Eclipse Series features multiple disc box sets organized by filmmaker, theme or studio. Box sets are generally under $60; many as low as $40 and $50.
Recent favorites include Eclipse Series 17: Nikkatsu Noir ($55.96), which features five ground-breaking noir titles made in the 1950's and 60s by Japan's Nikkatsu film studio. Directed by up-and-coming filmmakers, these low-budget flicks incorporated daring experimental techniques and explored the darkside of life in post-war Japan.
Other Japanese collections include Eclipse Series 7: Postwar Kurosawa ($69.95); Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu-Three Family Comedies ($44.95); Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women ($47.96); and Eclipse Series 15: Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu ($59.95).
Don't forget these collections of European films: Eclipse Series 8: Lubitsch Musicals ($59.95) and Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical ($44.95). Winston Churchill's friend, producer-director Aleaxnder Korda is represented by Eclipse Series 16: Alexander Korda's Private Lives ($59.95), featuring 1933's The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Rise of Catherine the Great and The Private Life of Don Juan from 1934 and Rembrandt from 1936.
And Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film ($44.95) features three Shaw adaptations from producer Gabriel Pascal: Major Barbara (1941), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and Androcles and the Lion (1952).
Box sets of other classic films abound.
Mark the 70th anniversary of one of Americans' favorite films with Gone with the Wind: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collectors Edition from Warner (www.wbshop.com or www.warnerbros.com; $69.92 DVD; $84.99 Blu-ray; rated G). The six-disc (four Blu-ray disc) edition includes three new documentaries, a 40-page hardcover book with photos and production notes, a set of art prints and more.
The smaller, more affordable Gone with the Wind Two-Disc Special Edition goes for $24.98.
Also from Warner comes a new edition of that other great classic from 1939, The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition ($69.92 DVD; $84.99 Blu-ray; rated G). For smaller budgets, The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition costs $24.98.
Film noir fans have a choice between two beautiful box sets from Sony (www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/). 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 the noir classic, Underworld U.S.A.
The work of one of America's greatest actors is celebrated in the 17-disc Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection, from Fox (www.foxstore.com; $89.98; not rated). The box set fatures 13 films spanning three decades, including The Long Hot Summer (1957), Exodus (1960), The Hustler (1960), What a Way to Go! (1964), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Verdict (1982).
Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece gets a beautiful face-lift with the comopletely restored North by Northwest: 50th Anniversary Editions from Warner (www.wbshop.com or www.warnerbros.com; $24.98 DVD; $34.99 Blu-ray; not rated). The two-disc DVD features two new documentaries featuring interviews with modern masters including Guillermo Del Toro, William Friedkin, and Curtis Hanson.
Britain's deadliest - not to mention sexiest - spy makes a triumphant appearance on high-definition disc with the 10-film Blu-ray gift box James Bond 10-Pack from MGM (www.mgm.com/dvd.php; $199.98; various ratings). Films include Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and Quantum of Solace.
Here's one for lovers of silent films - and expressionism: A six-disc box set featuring a selection of classics from F.W. Murnau. The six-disc box set, Murnau from Kino Video (www.kino.com/video/; $99.95; not rated), features Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh, Tartuffe, The Haunted Castle and The Finances of the Grand Duke, which were produced between 1921 and 1926.
Kino Video has an extensive collection of films from the silent era, including Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913 ($79.95), a three-disc selection of shorts and features from three early directors, Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade and Leonce Perret.
Other recent Kino releases include the Buster Keaton masterpiece The General on Blu-ray ($34.95; not rated) and the beautiful two-disc anthology, Avant-Garde 3: Experimental Cinema 1922-1954 ($29.95; not rated), which includes films by Dudley Murphy, Alberto Cavalcanti, Sidney Peterson, James Broughton and John Parker.
Fans of samurai films shouldn't miss Sleepy Eyes of Death: Collector's Set, Vol. 1 from AnimEigo (www.animeigo.com; $79.98). The box set features four of a beautifully crafted 12-film cycle from the mid 1960s that is considered to be one of Japan's best samurai film series. The films star the incomparable 60's matinee idol Raizo Ichikawa - who was dubbed the Japanese James Dean - as Nemuri Kyoshiro, a swordsman whose preternatural skill at killing is matched by his bleak, existentialist view of human existence.
Prolific 60's and 70's actor Tom Laughlin made quite a name for himself in the early 1970's as Billy Jack, a half-white, half-Native American former Green Beret and karate expert who returns from Vietnam only to find prejudice and hatred back home. Jack's story was told in four politically-aware action flicks which have had a cult following for decades. See all four with The Complete Billy Jack Collection (Born Losers; Billy Jack; The Trial of Billy Jack; Billy Jack Goes to Washington) a box set from Image (www.image-entertainment.com; $29.98; all rated PG).
Warner (www.wbshop.com or www.warnerbros.com) also has released a series of gift boxes perfect for the family. Titles include March of the Penguins Limited Edition Giftset ($39.92; rated G); Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory Blu-ray Book ($34.99; rated G); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition ($39.92 DVD; $84.99 Blu-ray; not rated). Don't forget Warner's ever-expanding series, TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection. There are more than 15 volumes of the affordable sets which feature four films on two discs. Collections include TCM Greatest Classic Films: Holiday, TCM Greatest Classic Films: Family, TCM Greatest Classic Films: Hitchcock Thrillers and TCM Greatest Classic Films: Romantic Comedies. Each collection costs $27.92.
Harry Potter 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 (www.wbshop.com; $28.98 DVD; $35.99 Blu-ray; rated PG). Die-hard fans will gobble up a new series of Potter 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.
Japanese director Yukihiko Tsutsumi made a splash at film fests this year with his two-part apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece, 20th Century Boys. The first volume, 20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End is due Dec. 15 from Viz Video (www.viz.com; $24.98; not rated). Don't miss it. (The second film is due Feb. 16.)
Quentin Tarantino once again displays his remarkable talent - and penchant for violent comedy - with Inglourious Basterds, due Dec. 15 from Universal Studios (www.universalstudioshomeentertainment.com; $29.98 single-disc DVD; $34.98 two-disc DVD; $39.99 Blu-ray; rated R). The WWII send-up, a remake of Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 B-film classic, is as enjoyable as a Tarantino film can get.
Castellari's original film, which featured Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson, is available in the new edition, Inglorious Bastards: 3-Disc Special Edition from Severin Films (www.severin-films.com; $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray; not rated).
MGM (www.mgm.com/dvd.php) has released a series of affordable, four-disc Star Collection sets featuring recent films by some of today's hottest actors.
The series includes The Mickey Rourke Star Collection featuring Desperate Hours, Pope Of Greenwich Village, Prayer For The Dying, and Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man; The Michelle Pfeiffer Star Collection includes Love Field, Fabulous Baker Boys, Married To The Mob, and Russia House; The Winona Ryder Star Collection features Mermaids, Autumn in New York, Great Balls Of Fire and 1969; and The Susan Sarandon Star Collection features Thelma And Louise, January Man, Something Short of Paradise and Igby Goes Down). Eact Star Collection costs $24.98.
Lest you forget, California's outgoing governor once was a sucessful action star. Watch some of his classics with The Schwarzenegger Collection from Fox (www.foxstore.com; $29.98; rated R). The four-disc set features Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall, Red Heat and The Running Man.
The Unit: The Complete Giftset, a 19-disc DVD collection from Fox (www.foxstore.com; $199.99; not rated), is guaranteed to cheer up anyone still smarting from CBS's decision to cancel the military drama after four seasons.
Created by playwright and filmmaker David Mamet and The Shield producer Shawn Ryan, The Unit followed the military and personal lives of a squad of American special forces warriors.
Speaking of The Shield, revisit one of America's scariest police stations with The Shield: Complete Series from Sony (www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/; $159.95; not rated).
Dance along with that freaky animated dancing baby which haunts lovable attorney Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) with the gargantuan 32-disc box set, Ally McBeal: The Complete Series from Fox (www.foxstore.com; $199.98; not rated).
HBO's exciting sword and sandal series Rome, which starred Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Kenneth Cranham and Indira Varma is collected in the 11-disc box set, Rome: The Complete Series from HBO Home (Video http://store.hbo.com/; $99.98 DVD; $139.99 Blu-ray; not rated).
Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant shine in the excellent, revisionary Western, Deadwood: The Complete Series also from HBO ($179.97; not rated).
Fans of literary mysteries will delight in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency also from HBO $59.99; TV-PG). The three-disc set features seven mysteries based on the best-selling books by Alexander McCall Smith. The series was shot entirely on location in Botswana.
Revisit Syfy's extraordinary science fiction drama with the 25-disc Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series from Universal Studios (www.universalstudioshomeentertainment.com; $279.98 DVD; $349.98 Blu-ray; not rated). Most of the show's stars, which included Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber and James Callis reteam for the Olmos-directed TV movie, Battlestar Galactica: The Plan also from Universal ($26.98 DVD; $39.98 Blu-ray).
Over the past half a dozen years, German television has produced three mini-series based on the works of one of the 20th Century's greatest novelists, Thomas Mann. Watch them all with the seven-disc box set, Thomas Mann Collection from Koch Vision (www.kochvision.com; $69.98; not rated). The 19-hour set features high-budget, immaculately-produced adapations of Buddenbrooks, Doktor Faustus and The Magic Mountain. Next month, Koch will release individual editions of each mini-series.
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.
Comedy hounds will rejoice in It's Garry Shandling's Show: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory (www.shoutfactory.com; $159.99; not rated). The 16-disc set features all four seasons of Shandling's groundbreaking 1980s Showtime comedy.
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 Home Entertainment (www.aetv.com; $149.95; not rated).
Other TV collections from A&E Home Entertainment include Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Series Megaset ($149.95; not rated) and the 42-disc DR. Quinn: Medicine Woman: The Complete Series Megaset ($149.95; not rated).
Indulge your nostaliga for the 1980's and for best-selling potboilers with the six-and-a-half-hour adaptation of Judith Krantz' best-seller, Mistral's Daughter from E1 Entertainment (www.e1entertainment.com or www.kochvision.com; $39.98). The 1984 miniseries which stars Stacy Keach, Lee Remick Stephanie Powers, Timothy Dalton and Robert Urich, traces three generations of beautiful, smart and powerful women descended from genius painter Julien Mistral (Keach).
And don't forget . . . classic WWII comedy Hogan's Heroes: The Komplete Series, Kommandant's Kollection from Paramount (www.paramount.com; $179.99; not rated). . . . The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Volume 1 from E1 Entertainment (www.e1entertainment.com; $39.98; not rated). . . . Budd Schulberg's stinging novel about Hollywood comes to the big screen in the terrific 1959 production, What Makes Sammy Run? also from E1 Entertainment ($24.98; not rated). . . . The 19-disc Norman Lear TV Collection from Sony (www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/; $159.95; not rated) features the first seasons of Lear's greatest shows, including All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons and Maude.
Crave Fame? The classic 1980 film and TV show are both available.
One of the year's greatest Blu-ray releases has to be The Prisoner: The Complete Series Megaset (Collector's Edition) from A&E (www.aetv.com; $99.95; not rated). Also available in regular DVD for $69.95, the box set features all 17 episodes of the brilliant 1960's series from Britain which defies classification. (AMC's remake will be available on DVD early next year.)
Eager to watch Robert Downey Jr. play England's greatest detective in Sherlock Holmes, which opens Christmas Day? Check out a lesser-known TV version of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic stories with The Sherlock Holmes Collection, starring Peter Cushing. The three-disc box set, which is due out Dec. 15 from A&E (www.aetv.com; $29.95; not rated), features the only five episodes of the 1960's BBC show which have survived the ravages of time.
MPI Home Video (www.mpihomevideo.com) has re-released a series of Sherlock Holmes big-screen features from the 1930's and 40's starring the initimable Basil Rathbone. The handsomely packaged one-disc double features include Sherlock Holmes Double Feature: The House of Fear/The Pearl of Death; Sherlock Holmes Double Feature: The Spider Woman/Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror; Sherlock Holmes Double Feature: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes/The Scarlet Claw; and Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles/Pursuit to Algiers. Each DVD costs $19.98.
The late British writer Dennis Potter revolutionalized television drama with such classics as Pennies From Heaven (1981), The Singing Detective (1986) and Lipstick on Your Collar (1993). Dennis Potter: 3 to Remember from Koch Vision (www.kochvision.com; $39.98; not rated), features three lesser-known TV movies that are as brilliant, intense and disturbing as Potter's best work: Blade on the Feather, Rain on the Roof and Cream in my Coffee.
BBC Video (www.bbcamericashop.com) has released a remarkable collection of some of Britain's best dramas and comedies.
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.
British TV doesn't get much better than the 1986 mini-series Edge of Darkness, an engrossing edge-of-your-seat political thriller starring one of the oddest pairings in recent memory, Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker. The five-hour series takes on Britain's nuclear industry and its less-than-honorable connections with American corporate and political interests. It's finally available on DVD as Edge of Darkness: The Complete Series ($34.98; not rated). The series remains so compelling it is being adapted as a major film starring Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone.
Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) presents British history of decidedly twisted sort with his international hit Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition ($79.98; not rated), which co-starred the brilliant duo of Hugh Laurie (House) and Stephen Fry (V for Vendetta).
The 14-disc The Steve Coogan Collection also from the BBC ($129.98; not rated) features all episodes of Coogan's best shows, including I'm Alan Partridge, Saxondale, Coogan's Run and Knowing Me, Knowing You. Also from BBC, see the first Red Dwarf episodes in nine years with Red Dwarf: Back to Earth ($24.98 DVD; $29.99 Blu-ray).
Last but not least, BBC Video's The Brontë Collection ($29.98) brings to life three masterpieces, Jane Eyre featuring Timothy Dalton; Wuthering Heights starring Ian McShane; and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall featuring Rupert Graves and Tara Fitzgerald.
Nick Park's ingenious, witty animated show comes to DVD with the four-disc anthology, Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection from Lionsgate (www.lionsgateshop.com; $29.98 DVD; $29.99 Blu-ray; not rated). The collection includes four delightful adventures, A Matter of Loaf and Death, A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. Each also is available as a single disc for $9.98 each.
Acorn Media (www.acornmedia.com) offers one of the most comprehensive collections of British TV shows and mini-series available in America.
Recent releases include the extranordinary war-time police drama, Foyle's War Series 1 to 5: From Dunkirk to VE Day, a mega box set from Acorn ($149.99) which features 19 feature-length episodes of the acclaimed British WWII classic. One of TV's best-written and researched shows, it features Michael Kitchen as a senior detective who outwits crooks, murderers, smugglers, and dirty cops in the coastal town of Hastings.
John Nettles stars as the laid-back country detective in Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Casebook from Acorn ($159.99), a 19-disc box set whcih features 17 feature-length mysteries from the show's fourth, sixth, seventh and eight seasons.
Robbie Coltrane outsmarts bad guys and his cop friends as a brilliant - and self-destructive - forensic psychologist in Cracker: The Complete Collection from Acorn ($119.99), a 10-disc set whcih features all 11 feature-length episodes of the BAFTA-winning show.
Peter Davison stars as the forever overlooked veteran detective in the gentle, humorous mystery series, The Last Detective Complete Collection from Acorn ($99.99). The nine-disc sets features all 17 episodes and a special treat: The 1981 TV movie, Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective starring Bernard Cribbins.
And don't forget these other releases from Acorn: Life On Mars Series 1 & 2 ($59.99 each). . . . Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection Set 4 starring David Suchet and Hugh Fraser ($49.99). . . . Trial & Retribution sets 2 & 3 from the brilliant British mystery writer Lynda LaPlante (Prime Suspect) starring David Hayman ($49.99 each).
European history buffs shouldn't miss Russia's War: Blood Upon the Snow from E1 Entertainment (www.e1entertainment.com; $39.98; not rated). The three-disc, eight-hour set features one of the most comprehensive - and damning - histories of Joseph Stalin's deadly three-decade reign over the Soviet people available.
Learn about the ideas that inspired Roland Emmerich's 2012 with 2012: Science or Superstition, a terrific documentary featuring numerous experts, released by The Disinformation Co. (www.disinfo.com; $19.95; not rated).
Celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the fabulous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live from Time Life (www.timelife.com; $119.96; not rated). The nine-disc set features 125 performances by some of rock's greatest artists, including Bruce Springsteen, U2, Cream, and Mick Jagger.
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music 40th Anniversary Ultimate Edition also from Warner (www.wbshop.com or www.warnerbros.com; $59.98 DVD; $69.99 Blu-ray), features the four-hour director's cut of the 1970 music documentary plus two extra hours of rare performance footage from 13 groups, including Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat and Joe Cocker.
Elvis fans will dig Elvis Presley: The Ed Sullivan Shows: The Classic Performances from Image ($14.98; not rated). The DVD includes footage of four Elvis' appearances starting with his famous debut performance on Sept. 9, 1956.
The 1980s Canadian metal band Anvil has been credited with influencing that era's big-hair metal craze. They've also been cited as the real-life inspiration for Rob Reiner's classic satire This Is Spinal Tap. Anvil: The Story of Anvil from VH1 Films/Paramount (www.paramount.com; $24.98; not rated), is a hilarious chronicle of rock dudes who make up with enthusiasm what they lack in brain power.
E1 Entertainment (www.e1entertainment.com or www.kochvision.com) presents a series of terrific music DVDs inculding . . . Nickelback Live At Sturgis 2006 ($19.99 DVD; $24.99 Blu-ray; not rated). . . . Soundstage: Rob Thomas Live at Red Rocks ($19.99 DVD; $24.99 Blu-ray; not rated). . . . Soundstage: Chris Isaak Greatest Hits - Live ($19.99) featuring 15 songs. . . . Soundstage: Ringo Starr and the Roundheads ($19.99), a 14-soung set which includes "Yellow Submarine" and "With a Little Help From My Friends."
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).