For this week’s selection of free Criterion films on Hulu, we turn to the work of a remarkable Japanese director, the great Masaki Kobayashi. If you have seen his best-known films—The Human Condition, Harakiri, Kwaidan, or Samurai Rebellion—you know that he is both a superb visual artist and a socially engaged one. Those films are all available on Hulu, as well as two lesser known, strikingly political morality tales: I Will Buy You, about the darker side of Japan’s professional baseball world, and Black River, which casts a harsh eye on the corruption in the area surrounding a U.S. army base in Japan following World War II.
Kobayashi’s earliest (and least remembered today) films were in a decidedly different vein. He began his career as an apprentice of the director Keisuke Kinoshita, making restrained human dramas influenced by Kinoshita’s own work and in line with the house style of the studio Shochiku, where he worked for a decade. In rare films like Somewhere Beneath the Wide Sky, Sincere Heart, and Fountainhead, you can see this kinder, gentler Kobayashi. Check out his very first, Youth of the Sun, a lyrical family drama that feels rather like an Ozu film—it even costars Ozu regular Chishu Ryu. You can watch it for free in its entirety below or at Hulu. And remember, if you sign up for Hulu Plus for just $7.99 a month, you’ll be able to see the hundreds of other Criterion films streaming there.