Koki Mitani is one of those very Japanese conundrums: Considered a master of comedy and a box-office king at home, he remains little known abroad — despite a career that spans three decades and includes work as a playwright and scriptwriter, as well as his six films to date as director.

The usual explanation — comedy doesn't travel — doesn't quite fit, since Juzo Itami, who resembled Mitani in his Hollywood-influenced scripts, media smarts and knack for commercial comedy, had his share of overseas success, beginning with his 1985 international hit "Tampopo."

The big difference, seen in Mitani's new period comedy "Kiyosu Kaigi (The Kiyosu Conference)," is the junior director's strong domestic focus. In contrast to the easy-to-understand story about the quest for a perfect bowl of ramen in "Tampopo," "The Kiyosu Conference" focuses on a real-life meeting in 1582 to determine the successor to leadership of the powerful Oda clan. The previous lord, Oda Nobunaga, had been killed by the troops of a treacherous general, Akechi Mitsuhide.