News and Opinion

I am still amazed by those who have the time to maintain a blog. I don't, so the best I can offer here is occasional short bits of news and observations. 

I have disabled comments for this site. If you want to discuss Japanese cinema, please join KineJapan, the list for which I serve as co-owner. 

Obayashi Nobuhiko Retrospective at the Japan Society

Our Yale event with the great director Obayashi Nobuhiko ended with considerable success. We can’t get the crowds of New York or Boston, but we had some deep discussions about such topics ad Ozu’s editing, 3.11, and experimental film. Obayashi-kantoku is very much the 1960s gentleman, his wife and producer Kyoko the kindest of ladies, and their daughter Chigumi a pillar of support.

We had Obayashi and his family over to our house for dinner while they were here. There were lots of entertaining stories (including one about Kadokawa Haruki) and a bit of wisdom, but I could also see how he could be a great teacher or mentor. My son showed him the film he made in class in the spring. Not just focusing on how good the film was or not, Obayashi told him that amateur films are as equally cinema as professional films. The crucial thing is to know--and positively use--one's limitations and to have control over the film, giving it unity. Thus if my son had to play 5 or 6 parts out of necessity, the important thing is for the film to be conscious of that and use it to its benefit. If an amateur film does that, it is just as much cinema as any professional film is. Obayashi then used my son’s film as example in the talk session the next day.

A Movie: The Cinema of Obayashi Nobuhiko — at Yale

A Movie: The Cinema of Obayashi Nobuhiko

One of the last major Japanese directors active since the 1960s, Obayashi Nobuhiko
 is doing a four-city tour of the East Coast, with Yale as the first stop. Little known outside of Japan, he gained a following in America with the DVD release of his debut feature film House, but our Yale event will present his unknown sides through screenings of three of his films and separate informal talk sessions. A pioneer of experimental film in Japan, Obayashi continued to stun audiences with his stylistic flourishes even as he became one of the hit-makers if the 1980s and 1990s. A wonderful study in contrast, he combined pop culture with literary sensibility, visual innovation with a love for classical Japanese film, and nostalgia with a celebration of cinematic artifice, a stance evident in the words “A Movie” he attaches to many of his films. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

12:00 pm, Sterling Memorial Library Room 218
Talk Session (with Interpreter) and Lunch 
RSVP to Suzette Benitez, CEAS:

7:00 pm, Whitney Humanities Center, Auditorium 
I Are You, You Am Me – “Tenkōsei” [a.k.a. Exchange Student] (Japan, 1982) 112 min., 35 mm
Complexe (Japan, 1964) 14 min., 16 mm
Director Ōbayashi Nobuhiko
Introduced and followed by a Q&A with the director
(Council on East Asian Studies and Films at the Whitney, supported by the Barbakow Fund for Innovative Film Programs at Yale)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

12:00 pm, Sterling Memorial Library Room 218
Talk Session (in Japanese) and Lunch 
RSVP to Suzette Benitez, CEAS:

7 pm, Whitney Humanities Center, Auditorium
The Rocking Horsemen – “Seishun dendekedekedeke” (Japan, 1992) 135 min., 35 mm
Director Ōbayashi Nobuhiko
Introduced and followed by a Q&A with the director
(Council on East Asian Studies and Films at the Whitney, supported by the Barbakow Fund for Innovative Film Programs at Yale)

Film synopses: 

The Pamphlet: Lone Wolves and Stray Dogs: The Japanese Crime Film

As I mentioned before, we at Yale have done a couple of Japanese film series in collaboration with the National Film Center of the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. One of the conditions of the collaboration is that we produce something physical as a record of the event. We did that with our first series, The Sword and The Screen: The Japanese Period Film 1915-1960 (which took place in January and February 2012), and then used that experience to create an even longer pamphlet for our second series with the NFC: Lone Wolves and Stray Dogs: The Japanese Crime Film, 1931-1969

It was again a wonderful project for the grad students doing East Asian film and media at Yale, who helped translate articles, write commentaries on the films being shown, and layout and edit the pamphlet. Rea Amit, Samuel Malissa, Noriko Morisue, Hsin-Huan Peng, Stephen Poland, Grace Ting, Takuya Tsunoda, Justine Wiesinger, and Young Yi all did splendid work.

We also had our symposium guests, Yomota Inuhiko, Jō Ōsawa, and Phil Kaffen, compose original and quite stimulating articles for the pamphlet. I added an introduction. 

Shinozaki Makoto’s Sharing and Cinema after 3.11

As I have argued many times before (for instance, in my writings on Kitano Takeshi, on Aoyama Shinji, or for the Japan Foundation), one of central problematics of Japanese cinema of the last two decades has been how to represent the other. In some cases, this has involved representing Japan’s others, especially minorities within the country, but on a more basic level, this has extended to questioning the ability of cinema to represent other individuals. This, I argue, has led many filmmakers of the 1990s to pursue a “detached style” that refrained from using close ups or analytical editing as means of enabling spectators to “know” what characters are thinking and feeling.

This problematic has seemingly declined in importance as new filmmakers have appeared and television—which in Japan has long offered pre-digested visions of the world, as Abe Kasho has argued in Beat Takeshi vs. Kitano Takeshi—has come to dominate film production. But the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, may have revived it in the form of the question of how to understand those who did and still suffer.

The Sword and The Screen: The Japanese Period Film 1915-1960

In the past few years, we at Yale have done a couple of Japanese film series in collaboration with the National Film Center of the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. One of the conditions of the collaboration is that we produce something physical as a record of the event. So even though we did not include it in the budget for our first series, The Sword and The Screen: The Japanese Period Film 1915-1960 (which took place in January and February 2012), we created a quite nice pamphlet on our own. 

It was a great project for the grad students doing Japanese film at Yale, who helped translate articles, write commentaries on the films being shown, and layout and edit the pamphlet. Rea Amit, Ryan Cook, Samuel Good, Samuel Malissa, Stephen Poland, Grace Ting, and Takuya Tsunoda all did great work.

We also had our symposium guests, David Desser and Itakura Fumiaki, pen original and quite stimulating articles for the pamphlet and I added an introduction. 

The result is actually a quite good resource on Japanese period films (chanbara or samurai movies), especially given the lack of time and the make-shift nature of the project. 

Colonial Era Korean Cinema

Although my specialty is Japanese cinema, I teach and do research in many other fields, such as animation, television, comic books, or the Western. I also work on other Asian cinemas, but have not had much of an occasion to publish on them.

I am thus glad to report that I’ve finally published my first article on Korean cinema: a piece entitled “Colonial Era Korean Cinema and the Problem of Internalization” in the journal Trans-Humanities, published by Ewha Womens University (number 20 [volume 8, number 1]: pp. 27–46). The origins of this piece are in a talk I gave as part of a panel discussion called “Korea’s Rediscovered Colonial Films" at Harvard in December 2010, a great session organized by Carter Eckert that also featured John Dower, Michael Robinson, and Franziska Seraphim. I am thankful to Prof. Eckert for giving me the opportunity to talk about Korean film, as well as to Ewha, which let me expand on that talk for the conference "Korean Literature, Art, and Film from 1910 to 1945" held at Ewha in July 2014. Ewha invited us to submit to their journal, which I did, in part to support the growing relationship between Ewha and Yale. My colleague, John Treat, who helped organize the conference, also has a piece in the same issue: “Im Hwa Before and After Japan.”

Japanese Film Industry Statistics for 2014

Eiren (the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan) has again released the official statistics for the film industry in 2014. The Japanese summary is here; for English, you have to scroll down to the bottom of this table for the 2014 figures. Click here to see the box office leaders in English.

Things have improved slightly from 2014. The total BO rose 6.6%, and total attendance 3.4%. The market share for Japanese films went down from 60.6% to 58.3%, largely due to the immense success of Frozen (which pulled in 25.8 billion yen), but this is the seventh consecutive year the domestic films have beat the foreign ones. The number of screens increased slightly to 3364, with the percentage of those screens being in multiplexes reaching a record 86.5% (single screen theaters, such as mini-theaters, are really dying out). The average ticket price rose to 1246 yen, the highest amount ever (it had not risen over 1260 since 2010).  Perhaps Abe's inflationary policies are reaching the movie theaters. 

Lone Wolves & Stray Dogs: The Japanese Crime Film, 1931-1969

I'm very glad to announce the start of Yale's second collaboration with the National Film Center in Tokyo: the film series “Lone Wolves & Stray Dogs: The Japanese Crime Film, 1931-1969.” Our first collaboration in 2012, "The Sword and the Screen: The Japanese Period Film 1915-1960," was actually the first time the NFC collaborated with a foreign university, and was a great success. 

The new series, co-sponsored between the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale and the National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, will present ten masterworks of Japanese gangster film, detective cinema, and Japanese noir, in subtitled archive prints that have rarely been seen abroad. The series will conclude with a symposium featuring an international panel of experts on Japanese crime film, and a world premiere screening of a newly struck English subtitled print of the classic gangster melodrama, Chutaro of Banba (Mabuta no Haha). The series kicks off on January 22, 2015, with the film Stray Dog, and concludes on February 15 with the world premiere and closing symposium.

The Net, Copyright, and Japanese Cinema and Anime History

One of the problems for those of us interested in Japanese films or anime is access. Only a fraction of what was produced—even if it still exits in celluloid form—is readily available on DVD or some other form. Some of my students still don't understand that. Especially the young ones interested in American film think that everything is available either on DVD or on Netflix, when it is not, even in the case of the USA. Films from certain nations are more available, but that only enhances the illusion that those countries are the core of film history. Access is crucial not only for scholars, but for narrating the world heritage of film history.

In the case of Japan, it doesn't help that Japanese archives are expensive, hard to use, and themselves not easily accessible. Even professional scholars have a hard time viewing prints of films that definitely exist. (For more on that, check out our Research Guide.)

So I am sure many of us are thrilled when we see some rare Japanese film or anime uploaded on YouTube or some other site. We now have access! But for a long time I have warned my students about the backside of this illusion of access, a problem that has recently hit home.

On Wildgrounds and on Film Theory and Criticism

As I mentioned regarding my interview on the MacMillan Report, I am rather embarrassed appearing on camera. But I will do it when asked. I was surprised and honored when Michael Stern over at Wildgrounds asked to do a video interview while I was in Paris for the Kawabata Yasunari symposium. He came to both the symposium and to my hotel, and it was at the latter that we talked for over an hour. Somehow he edited that down to about four minutes, in quite a professional manner, focusing on my discussion of the importance of Japanese film theory, particularly with regard to Hasumi Shigehiko, and the current state of Japanese film criticism, especially how its moribund condition may bode poorly for the future of Japanese cinema. 

Kawabata Yasunari on Cinema

This coming week I will be attending an international conference in Paris on the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Kawabata Yasunari. Entitled "Relire Kawabata au 21e siècle - modernisme et japonisme au-delà des mythes," it will take place on September 17 and 18, 2014, at the Maison de la culture du Japon (for the first day) and the Université Paris Diderot (on the second day). It will feature some of the top literature scholars in Japan, Europe, and the United States, including Michael Bourdaghs, Kensuke Kono, Hirokazu Toeda, Hirofumi Wada, Yuko Brunet, Tomi Suzuki, and Cécile Sakai (who is the main organizer). The novelist Tawada Yoko will give a talk on the evening of the first day. Click here for the program (in French). 

My own interest in Kawabata is rather long held. One of my first published articles, "Celluloid Masks: The Cinematic Image and the Image of Japan" (in Iris 16 [Spring 1993]: 23-36), considered how Kawabata's and Tanazaki Jun'ichiro's literary representations of cinema connected to their constructions of Japan. And of course my second book, A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan, is about the film Kawabata was individually involved in making. 

Nuclear Nation Twice and Cinema after 3.11

This week and next week I will be participating in two events in Tokyo centered on films about the disasters on March 11, 2011, both of which—by chance—happen to feature screenings of the documentary Nuclear Nation (Futaba kara toku hanarete) and a discussion with the director Funahashi Atsushi. 

The first will take place on July 18 at Josai University, and will include a panel discussion with me, Hayashi Chiaki, Kitano Keisuke, Abé Mark Nornes, Mark Roberts, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano, and Akira Mizuta-Lippit on the issue of cinema after 3.11 Details can be found here

The second will take place on the following Friday, July 25, at Sophia University. That will focus more on the film and will feature a talk after the screening between me and Funahashi-san. Details are available on this pdf.

There are a lot of films being made on 3.11—though many with some difficulties—which are increasingly becoming the subject of academic studies.

Ewha-Yale Conference: “Korean Literature, Art, and Film from 1910 to 1945”

This weekend I will be taking part in a conference coordinated by Ewha Women's University in South Korea and Yale University. Entitled “Korean Literature, Art, and Film from 1910 to 1945” that is being held at Ewha. A number of Yale and Ewha faculty will be taking part, as well as a former student of mine, Naoki Yamamoto, who is at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While I am not an expert on Korean cinema, I hope in my paper, "Colonial Era Korean Cinema and the Problem of Internalization," to pose some questions about the relation of film form to colonial subjectivity. Here is the abstract of my talk:

The internalization of the values of the colonizers in the mind of the colonized—the colonization of the mind—can be as crucial to the perpetuation of colonialism as the violence of legal or military force. I would like to analyze some colonial era films that I think pose some interesting questions about the problem of internalization during Japan’s colonization of Korea. One could see in films like Military Train (1938) or Volunteer (1941) examples of characters internalizing the voices or visions of Japanese empire. Yet I wonder if these films do not also show us complications in these narratives of internalization. First, they may seem in part to internalize Japanese film language or style, but given fraught debates in Japan over what constituted a national cinema, Koreans were at best internalizing a cinema that Japanese authorities themselves had not internalized as sufficient to represent the modern Japanese nation. This situation may affect the entire phenomenon of internalization. What I am curious about is less whether there was internalization of Japanese cinema or not, than the shape of the “internal” within the colonial spatial dynamics: what the cinema tells us about the fraught nature of internalization itself, for instance about how the boundaries between internal and external are demarcated or rendered ambiguous, about the construction or deconstruction of internalized subjects, and the contradictions of representing internal states through external means like cinema. I wonder if we cannot hypothesize that, if colonial era Korean cinema seems often concerned with internal states, it is less because it is opening up the space that will be internalized by the colonial cinema, than it is exhibiting the cracks and contradictions in internalization itself and the problems of colonial subjectivity. I thus was particularly interested in the number of stories, such as Fisherman’s Fire (1939), where gazes mattered, but which were often presented without point of view structures, or through point of view editing or eyeline matches that are considered wrong according to the rules of classical Hollywood cinema.

You can check out the schedule at the Yale CEAS site.

Film Criticism and the Oxford Handbook of Japanese Cinema


One of the trends in academic publishing these days seems to be an effort to provide information in a more condensed, easy-to-consume fashion. There are series like "Short Cuts" and its brief books on various topics in film (such as on New Korean Cinema). There also seems to be an explosion in publications of various handbooks or companions to this or that subject. I participated in one with my article on ”Japanese Film and Television" in the Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society edited by Vicky and Ted Bestor and Akiko Yamagata; and in another with the piece "Nation, Citizenship and Cinema" in A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan edited by Jennifer Robertson. 

There are now a number of these handbooks or companions being prepared on Japanese cinema. I've been asked to contribute to most of them (and even approached about editing one). The first to come out may set a standard that will be difficult to surpass:

Daisuke Miyao, ed. Oxford Handbook of Japanese Cinema. Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN 9780199731664.

Archival Film Festivals and Japan


A couple of years ago, I wrote a review of Tokyo FILMeX's "Nippon Modern" retrospective of Shochiku films from the 1920s and 1930s for Undercurrent, the online journal of FIPRESCI. It was a critical take on not just the retro, or even Sato Tadao's article for the catalog, but of a longer history of Japanese critics and institutions declining to think sufficiently about Japanese film history, in part by not thinking about the history of thinking about cinema in Japan. The piece was another in my efforts to think about the history and problems of film theory in Japan, which I mentioned in my last entry.

The Undercurrent article caught the eye of Alex Marlow-Mann, who asked me to expand on it for a volume in the "Film Festival Yearbook" series put out by St Andrews Film Studies. This volume, number five in the series, was on archival film festivals. My piece, entitled "Retrospective Irony: Film Festivals and Japanese Cinema History," sketches the history of retrospectives of Japanese film originating in Japan, beginning with those organized by the Kawakita Nagamasa and his wife Kashiko (the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute), and explores what kind of Japanese cinema they were constructing, especially for a foreign other. As with the Undercurrents piece, I note how these retros frequently did construct a Japan or Japanese cinema that was itself not supposed to be the object of critical theory, even when these events were held at home.

Talking about Japanese Film Theory

I've appeared on television and radio multiple times, but I never like to watch or hear myself afterwards. Maybe some of it has to do with some complex over my self image, but mostly it's because I don't like how the ephemeral moment has been preserved forever. Like with writing, there's little you can do after it has been made public (unless you're writing for the net or can work with multiple editions of a book), but at least with writing you can rework the text multiple times until it's reasonably good before publication. With interviews on radio and TV, however, it's usually one take and that's it, mistakes and fumbles and all. I recognize my feelings are contradictory here. Cinema's value lies in part in its ability to capture the unrehearsed moment, to offer a glimpse of what's behind the performance of reality—as well as the performance itself—and lay bare some of its faults and inconsistencies. I admire that about cinema, but I guess I just don't like becoming naked that much myself. One realizes the camera's power once you get in front of it, and realize your image is being captured and projected into the ether.

Japanese Film Industry Statistics for 2013

For those interested, Eiren (the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan) has released the official statistics for the film industry in 2013. The Japanese summary is here; for English, you have to scroll down to the bottom of this table for the 2013 figures, or click here to see the box office leaders.

There's not much change from 2012. Total BO is slightly down, while total attendance is slightly up. The market share for Japanese films went down from 65.7% to 60.6%, but still remains strong, since the last time Japanese films kept foreign films under 40% for consecutive years was 1968–1969. The number of screens increased slightly to 3318, the most they've had since 1970. The average ticket price went down to 1246 yen (which is not what you pay at the theater—it's the average of all the tickets sold at different prices), which likely means that more are taking advantage of discount screenings or price specials (like ladies' day, etc.). 

The problem again is that the number of films released increased once more: 1117 total (up from 983), with 591 being Japanese films (up from 554). That's the highest number in history and an average of 21 films opening each week. Some of this is due the fact that they started including so-called ODS (Other Digital Stuff), like screenings of live events in movie theaters, in the stats, but part of it is due to showings of more low-budget digital works in very short runs.

ANA's "Racist" Commerical and Japanese National Identity

There has been a little bit of a hubbub over a new TV commercial that the Japanese airline ANA has put out. Some news organizations have reported complaints that it is racist, and ANA has responded by apologizing and is changing the ad. Here is the original CM: 

It's a disturbing commercial, but not exactly for the reasons some have stated. Since the issue of audience is important, it might be good to think about how the average Japanese viewer might see this. FIrst note the casting. The actor on the left is Nishijima Hidetoshi, a very good actor in straight dramas like Kitano Takeshi's Dolls who I like a lot (whom I've met, by the way). The one on the right is Bakarizumu, a popular comedian who has done some great routines (you can check out one here). The cut to Bakarizumu with the gaijin get-up is then intended to be comedic, both because of the casting (most Japanese would know who the two are) and the extreme get-up. You don't see that kind of get-up in Japanese TV comedy much any more, but when you do, it is rather self-conscious, emphasizing not only the stereotyped "gaijin" image, but also the slapstick, vaudeville-like nature of the comedy. That's the case here as well, with the rubber bands attaching the nose being quite visible. So on one level, the CM works by allowing the viewer to laugh not just at the "gaijin" but also, in a meta way, at the comedy. They thus laugh at the get-up as ridiculous, as patently false and comedic—perhaps even understanding it as old-fashioned and a stereotype. 

Catching Up: The Japanese Film Musical

It's been another long gap between posts. Still, I felt I had to get one more in before the new year.


This post was not the only thing that took time. So did the book I want to introduce. It not only took several years for it to get published, but it then seemingly took forever for me to get a copy. But it is a fascinating book: The International Film Musical, edited by Corey K. Creekmur and Linda Y. Mokdad and published by Edinburgh University Press (ISBN 9780748634767).  

The book itself is an important step towards overcoming the tendency to equate the film musical with Hollywood cinema. It explore the broad range of narrative musical film traditions in a multitude of national contexts, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, China, India, Egypt, and Turkey.

My contribution considers the phenomenon of musicals in Japanese cinema by focusing on the problem of genre, both in terms of the general issue of the structure of genre in the Japanese film industry and the specific problem Japanese musicals have faced in trying to pursue what is often perceived as a Hollywood genre. The paper takes up two examples of the salaryman musical: Harikiri Boy (Harikiri bōi, dir. Ōtani Toshio), a P.C.L. musical from 1937 starring Furukawa Roppa; and You Can Succeed Too! (Kimi mo shusse ga dekiru, dir. Sugawa Eizō), arguably one of Japan's greatest musicals, made in 1964 with Frankie Sakai. It explores how Japan too, amidst the complex geopolitics of genre and nation, could succeed at the film musical. 

Kobe Planet Film Archive

In the same trip to check on Kyoto film archives, I also went to Kobe to visit the Kobe Planet Film Archive (Kobe Eiga Shiryokan). 

P2013 0705 122812

It's located about a five minute walk from Shin-Nagata Station on the JR line on the second floor of a shopping complex. The area was one of the worst hit during the Kobe Earthquake in 1995 (which I experienced in Kyoto), so much of the area is newly rebuilt. The neighborhood is known among anime and manga fans as the location of the Tetsujin 28-go monument (the robot hero of the Yokoyama Mitsuteru manga/anime that was released in the USA as Gigantor) that was built as a symbol of local revival in 2009.


The Film Archive opened in March 2007 with support from the city as another element in Kobe's revival plan. It is managed by Yasui Yoshio, one of the core figures in the Kansai film scene. He runs the Planet Bibliotheque de Cinema in Osaka, a private film library that also manages a small theater, Planet + 1. He has unearthed a number of important films, including most recently two of Ofuji Noburo's animated films, and co-authored books like Osaka ni Toyo 1 no satsueijo ga atta koro. I've known him since 1993, when he was coordinating the historical retrospectives of Japanese documentary for the Yamagata Film Festival. We also ventured off to Minamata together to interview Tsuchimoto Noriaki and he provided the prints for my wife's DVD, Roots of Japanese Anime

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