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NOVEMBER 21-JANUARY 3, 1999

Drawing on the theatrical traditions established in the Edo era (1615-1868), Japanese directors treated both historical and (indirectly) contemporary issues in the jidai-geki (period drama) films made in the postwar era. Although the genre shows some nostalgia for lost glories, it also frequently offers a trenchant analysis of Japanese feudalism—a system that didn’t entirely end until American occupiers forced a democratic system on the land of the samurai and the divine emperor. This series includes a few well-known films, including Kenji Mizoguchi’s account of a noted 18th-century artist, Utamaro and His Five Women (Nov. 25 & 27 at noon), Masahiro Shinoda’s tale of doomed lovers, Double Suicide (Nov. 29 at 4 p.m.), and Kon Ichikawa’s highly stylized An Actor’s Revenge (Dec. 19 at 2:30 p.m.). Many of these movies, however, are rarely screened, and one is a Washington premiere: Ichikawa’s 1995 version of the much-filmed tale, The 47 Ronin (Dec. 6 at 4 p.m.). Among the many highlights are Shinoda’s Sharaku, the story of a popular 18th-century artist who abruptly disappeared (Nov. 21 at 1 p.m.; Nov. 27 at 2:30 p.m.); Humanity and Paper Balloons, Sadao Yamanaka’s tragic tale of an unemployed samurai (Dec. 12 at 3:30 p.m.); Sword of Doom, which boasts a spectacular sword-fight climax in a burning building (Dec. 26 at 4:15 p.m.); and Tenchu, an action drama with a Yukio Mishima cameo (Jan. 3 at 4 p.m.). Pictured is The Sun Legend of the Shogunate’s Last Days (Nov. 22 at 4 p.m.). At the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th & Constitution NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Mark Jenkins)