If foreign-language feature films can serve as windows into the lives and cultures of people we may never meet, and tell us about places we may never travel, how much more so a good documentary? In July I wrote about Campaign, a doc about the Japanese political process as seen through the eyes of an unlikely candidate. Since I haven't seen too many documentaries from or about Japan, that's made my ears perk up every time I hear about another.

Recently I watched White Light, Black Rain, which started showing on HBO after premiering at Sundance earlier this year. Steven Okazaki is a gifted, Academy Award-winning filmmaker, and one of his gifts is an ability to take a subject that might initially sound uninviting -- in this case, survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- and present the material in a straightforward yet artful manner that is very persuasive. I found myself caught up in the stories and very striking images and, before I realized it, the points had been made. The film will continue showing on HBO in August and September; it's also available on DVD.

The Village That Became Water (pictured) was released in Japan this month and Mark Schilling of The Japan Times had high praise for it. Filmmaker Nobuo Onishi spent 15 years documenting the impact of a long-planned dam on the people who would be displaced by the construction. The villagers raised and prepared their own food, "made medicines from local plants," and lived contentedly without any taste of modern civilization. The dam was first proposed in 1957; "after decades of living with the threat of the dam, they have become resigned to it and determined to enjoy their remaining time in the best place they know." The documentary, which Schilling says is permeated by Onishi's "commitment and passion," sounds well worth seeking out; I hope some enterprising festival programmers will give us a chance to see it.
categories Cinematical