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The “Always” films, unabashedly sentimental, meticulously realized reminiscences on the Tokyo of the Showa 30s (1955-1965), are intended for the domestic audience only. But the first two received high audience poll numbers when they screened at the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy, which I help program. And it wasn’t just because the director, the personable Takashi Yamazaki, was there to take his bows.

Despite the cartoonish performances and the insider references to pop-culture phenomena that are obscure to foreigners, the Italian audience laughed, cried and loudly applauded. When I tell this to local industry types, they are understandably skeptical. By conventional box-office logic, these films should be about as exportable as natto (fermented soy beans).

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