Apart from Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Akira Kurosawa, all of whom have had nearly their entire film canon released outside of Japan, there are all those other masterful directors like Naruse who have had only a handful of their films released or publicised for us to know about . Quite often too, someone will be know for a great film or two (think Oshima or Ichikawa) but we remain in ignorance of what else in their work is worth seeking out. Granted a quick search on the web will tell us a lot, but really what was needed was to have that sort of information at hand's reach in book form. Alexander Jacoby's book is exactly the sort of book I had hope existed. Not sure, given it's 2008 copyright, how I remained ignorant of it for so long! It is comprehensive and yet remains a compact paperback. About a 100 directors are included, with an essay on their career followed by an extensive filmography. This latter feature is a godsend. And the essays while necessarily brief are thorough.
For example, everything one needed to know about the criminally overlooked Hiroshi Shimizu (Ozu's friend and contemporary) is contained in 2 and 1/2 pages followed by 3 full pages of his extensive list of films from 1924 to 1959, all with their year of make, Japanese title and it's English title. Naruse has a 3 page essay followed by a page and half of his filmography but even here you realise how little of it is made available to us on DVD or Blu Ray. And best of all, this book introduces you to the work of great directors you were in complete ignorance of. For example, just from the introduction I was alerted to the work of Kozabura Yoshimura (a contemporary of Mizoguchi's) and work of newer directors now working like Tomoyuki Furumaya and Hashiguchi Ryosuke. This is altogether a marvellous modest- sized brilliant primer. Japanese film fans- don't hesitate for a second!
Japanese cinema, from the silent era to the present day, is one of the world's richest film cultures, largely because it can boast a remarkable number of directors each of whom has produced a body of work that is distinctive both in its personal concerns/recurring themes and in displaying a unique visual style. One can debate which of these artists deserve to be recognised as "creators of genius" or "minor but talented" or "ambitious but problematic" etc.; the important thing is to establish that they are all worthy of attention. After an opening chapter that outlines with laudable clarity the effects of socio-cultural and economic trends in Japanese history upon its film industry, Alexander Jacoby profiles the work of no less than 156 directors, offering succinct, vivid accounts of their careers. He has clearly viewed thousands of Japanese films, but where prints of potentially key works are lost or inaccessible, he provides intelligent, cogent assessments based on contemporary or more recent crtitical sources. Whether your interest in Japanese cinema is deep-rooted or passing, this book is essential reading.