Akira Kurosawa is one of those directors that requires absolutely no introduction at all... but I'll do it anyway.
In short, Kurosawa was one of the most legendary film directors in cinematic history -- he not only inspired other great directors, but he splintered your basic movie conventions ("Rashomon"), inspired others (the wipe! Slow motion action!) and created the standard for Japanese action, drama and historical movies. "AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa" is basically what it sounds like: twenty five movies by Kurosawa (including some never before released in the U.S.).
It includes all the classic films that Kurosawa is so famous for -- "Seven Samurai," "Sanjuro," "Yojimbo" and "The Hidden Fortress." Kurosawa packs the movies with with brilliant stories of samurai, warlords, feisty princesses, goofy peasants, a wandering nameless ronin who has a penchant for cleaning out filthy corrupt towns, and a band of samurai who are trying to save a village of not-entirely-blameless peasants. The best of them: "Rashomon," in which a woman is raped and a man is murdered, but his killer's identity is the subject of some debate.
And then there are the period movies that people don't usually mention as quickly: "Kagemusha," "The Lower Depths," "Throne of "Blood," "Red Beard," and the Noh-inspired "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail." With the exception of the last one (a semi-comedic story about a nobleman trying to avoid being killed by his brother), these stories are a bit darker in theme, with lots of cruel warlords, foul Edo apartment buildings, an arrogant young doctor in Edo who clashes with his new boss, and a Japanese-themed retelling of Macbeth. It even includes the brilliant two-part judo saga "Sanshiro Sugata," which were only Kurosawa's first and third movies in his long-ranging career.
Fortunately the box set also emphasizes Kurosawa's movies set in then-current times: it includes darker-hued, gritty movies like "Stray Dog," the propagandic "The Most Beautiful," "I Live In Fear," "Ikiru," "Scandal," "No Regrets For Our Youth," "The Bad Sleep Well," "Drunken Angel," and "High And Low." If anything, these movies have a wider range of topics -- Kurosara delves into darker facets of human nature with stories of revenge, family strife, police work, a dying man's last months, political destruction of people's lives, gangsters and corporate corruption.
But he also strays outside the basic outlines with stories like the lighthearted "One Wonderful Sunday", which focuses on a couple of lovers having a cheap day out in postwar Japan, and "Dodesukaden's" poignant tales of poverty-stricken people in a slum. The most brilliant of the contemporary movies: "Madadayo," the uplifting story of an elderly professor and his students.
"AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa" is basically a big collection of Kurosawa's movies, mostly of his more obscure works (including the early stuff) but containing most of his best-known works as well. Most of these have been released by Criterion before, but there are a few that haven't except as some old VHS tapes -- and the entire collection gives a very comprehensive look at the myriad styles and stories that Akira Kurosawa conjured like a magician.
Even from the earliest movies, Kurosawa imbues his movies with many layers: artistic flourishes that were unique at the time (aiming a camera at the sun), blood-spattering action, sly wit and powerful and insightful direction (the final exquisitely bittersweet scene of "Ikiru"). And he got some truly brilliant actors for these movies, most notable Toshiro Mifune -- he played a wide range of brilliant roles, including a crazed bandit, a "red beard" doctor, a powerful general, a Macbethian warlord, and a brilliant nameless ronin. Among others.
But as for the downsides -- for some reason it's missing films like "Ran," "Dreams" and the underrated "Dersu Uzala." And there don't seem to be many on-disc extras here -- there's new digital transfers, a "remembrance," and a book called "The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa,"
"AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa" shows the considerable range of this legendary director, with movies both famous and obscure -- ideally it would have had a few more, but it's still an outstanding collection.