JAPANESE CULTURE, with its reputation for fastidiousness, is rarely uninteresting. Even if its end products don't always translate in America, there's a fairly consistent thread of effort. As such, the NW Film Center's annual Japanese Currents festival—just one among an annual calendar that highlights contemporary contributions from cultures throughout the world—is of particular intrigue, at once preoccupied with tradition and at the very vanguard of technique.
One of the most effective points of entry is the shorts program the Film Center typically includes: Within a relatively short time, one gets a tour that surveys genres from animation and drama to comedy, without having to commit to any one thing for more than 30 minutes. Shigeyoshi Tsukahara's Hashi no Mukou is the pick to look for here: A dark, animated fantasy centered on a rickety, towering village plagued by a polluted river and mysterious kidnappers, it's like an abbreviated riff on The City of Lost Children, rendered in appropriately grimy shades.
Another standout of technical brilliance is Mamoru Hosoda's animated feature Wolf Children, in which a single mother rears two half-wolf spirit children. The images are so vivid that at times they look photographic—but the story and characters are so twee, chirpy, and inconsequential that one almost wants to watch it with the sound off. (Kids who can grapple with subtitles might enjoy it.)
Dramatically, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son is an engrossing look at parenthood, explored through the story of two infants swapped at birth, never shying away from the cultural complexities that shoulder their way into the considerations of two very different families. There are also manga-inspired samurais (Rurouni Kenshin), teen dramas (The Kirishima Thing), and a time-traveling comedy about a public bath designer (Thermae Romae)—wherever your interests tend to gravitate, there is a Japanese answer.