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. 

Yale University Welcomes Nakadai Tatsuya


Our big Japanese film event at Yale this fall is a visit by the illustrious actor, Nakadai Tatsuya, on October 27-28, 2016. One of my favorites since high school, I am thrilled with the opportunity to welcome him to Yale and talk to him about his work. We’ll show two of his films, with Q&A—Harakiri (Kobayashi Masaki, 1962) and Age of Assassins (Okamoto Kihachi, 1967). He will also do two talk sessions with a smaller audience that are by registration only. He’ll also be catching some theater while he’s here.

This year is the centennial of the birth of Kobayashi Masaki, with whom Nakadai made some of his best films. He thus insisted on doing at least one Kobayashi film. We talked at first about doing two, but he was intrigued about doing an Okamoto film, so that’s the second one.

Nakadai will also do some events in New York, but we hope people can make the trek to New Haven to catch Nakadai in a more relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

I’ve met him a couple of times in preparation for the event—which itself was a thrill!—and I was so impressed with what a charming and wonderful human being he is. At 84 years old, he still works full-time and runs his own acting school/troupe called Mumeijuku. He’s acted in so many media and had a career spanning seven decades, so there is so much he can share with us.

Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Dis/continuity, and the Ghostly Ethics of Meaning and Auteurship


Kurosawa Kiyoshi has long been one of my favorite filmmakers, but one I’ve found very hard to talk about. Perhaps that difficulty is one reason I like him so much: his films resist our ability to comfortably confine them in words, and challenge our systems of knowledge and perception. That’s one reason they are so attractive but also so frightening.

That’s also why I have always been at somewhat of a loss when I encounter articles on Kurosawa that profess to know him or his works through some allegorical, postmodern, or ecocritical methodology. There’s a lot we can learn about Kurosawa from such articles, but it still stikes me that many of them were less watching his films in their complexity than imposing their interpretations. And given that Kurosawa’s films are populated with detectives and detective-like figures whose interpretations are problematic, that approach can be self-defeating, if not blind to what’s going on in the films. They effectively offer comfort against a set of films that are fundamentally disturbing.

Early Science Fiction and Fantasy Film in Japan


The Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, has established itself as the premier forum for introducing popular East Asian film to Europe. As any good festival should do, it also runs retrospective programs in addition to its programs showcasing new films. Mark Schilling, the longtime critic for the Japan Times and author of such books as Yakuza Movie Book, has programmed a number of Japanese film retros at Udine, including the one that led to the book No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema

His task in 2016 was to do a series on Japanese sci-fi and fantasy films that went beyond the kaiju films people are used to. Entitled “Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures and Fantasies in Japanese Cinema,” it featured ten films and a special visit by Obayashi Nobuhiko, whom we hosted at Yale in 2015. Mark also edited the catalog and asked me to pen a history of Japanese sci-fi and fantasy films before WWII. 

That was quite a task because most of what was made no longer exists. For instance, only pictures of the infamous King Kong Appears in Edo (Edo ni arawareta Kingu Kongu, 1938) survive. A few films are still available for viewing, such as Makino Masahiro’s Shimizu Harbor, Part II (Zoku Shimizuko, 1940) or Yamamoto Kajiro’s Son Goku (1940), starring Enomoto Ken'ichi, but that’s not enough for an article. 

The Toy Film Museum in Kyoto おもちゃ映画ミュージアム


The other week I had to travel to the Kansai area on business and research. I used the opportunity to visit the newly opened Toy Film Museum in the Mibu area of Kyoto. 

What are toy films? They have usually been referred to in Japanese as “omocha eiga” (おもちゃ映画) or “gangu eiga” (玩具映画), and have denoted modes of watching cinema in the home in the early years of the medium. While we are familiar with small gauge films (kogata eiga 小型映画) like 8mm—or the 9.5mm Pathé Baby format popular in the prewar—that came to be defined as the mode for home movies, the motion pictures did not necessarily enter the home in such formats. Much larger gauges—including 35mm film—were actually common as a home movie system confined to projection. You might be surprised at that if you know of the huge projectors that exist (or existed) in theaters for 35mm projection, but in fact from the 1910s, there were small tin 35mm projectors produced in Europe and North America, the first working off of oil lamps, the later ones off of electric light, that could be used at home. With small spools of film and cranked by hand, they could present films a few minutes long. The picture on the left is of a foreign-made projector with the film loaded that is on display at the Museum.

The Japanese Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies 日本映画研究へのガイドブック

IMG 20160628 0003.jpg

The Japanese version of the Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies that Markus Nornes and I produced back in 2009 has just been published by Yumani Shobo. This is not just a translation of our guide to archives, reference books, and websites important to the study of Japanese film, but a major update of the Guide. Not only have a few errors been corrected or addresses or URLs updated, but we’ve added or revised quite a number of entries, taking into account new archives and books as well as changing circumstances since 2009. Those of you who have used the English version and can read Japanese should get this version in order to have the most up-to-date information. Markus and I are thinking about putting out a revised English version—a plan we’ve had since the original book—but it may take some time before that is out.

I have not always had good luck with translations. The Japanese translation of Visions of Japanese Modernity has been in process for nearly fifteen years (starting even before California published it), and the translation of Kitano Takeshi has been in the works for about seven years. But I was fortunate this time. Not only did the translation not take too long, but we were fortunate that Dogase Masato supervised the translation, working with Otake Mizuho, Murakami Satoru, and Sawa Shigehito. They did a splendid job. The staff at Yumani also worked hard, checking all the phone numbers and addresses, and even allowing additions up until the last moment. It was a pleasure working with everyone.

War and Nationalism in Recent Japanese Cinema: Yamato and Divided Lenses


Way back in December 2008, I took part in an excellent conference at Stanford on war and memory in East Asian cinema. The talk I delivered was on Yamato (Otokotachi no Yamato, 2005), Sato Jun’ya’s box office hit that was produced by the maverick Kadokawa Haruki about the ill-fated battleship Yamato. Taking into consideration not only the long history of films on the Yamato, but also some contemporary kamikaze war films, I argued that the film is not just reworking wartime memory for the sake present-day historical revisionism towards WWII, but that it is utilizing its own depiction of violence to create a kind of “vicarious trauma” whose main effect is a forgetting of the postwar and its own traumatic history of the Cold War.

The plan even then was to turn the conference into an anthology, but for various reasons, the plan dragged on. When it was clear the anthology was not going to appear very soon, I got permission to publish a very abridged version of my piece in Japan Focus under the title, "War and Nationalism in Yamato: Trauma and Forgetting the Postwar.” It then took about another five years for the anthology to come out, but it finally has, and it looks great. Here’s the reference for my piece:

Donald Richie and Transnational Japanese Cinema


Donald Richie, one of the most important introducers of Japan and its cinema, passed away about this time three years ago. The following July, Iwamoto Kenji hosted a symposium on Donald at Waseda University. I talked about the famous Japanese film history he produced with Joseph Anderson, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. While noting its problems, especially its orientalism and Cold War worldview, I also pointed out how its own stance of being other to Japanese film culture enabled it to provide a depiction of that culture, especially of such seemingly innocuous phenomena as the state of an average movie theater, that Japanese sources could not offer. In the end, I argued that, while Richie himself was not innocent of othering Japan, his decision to himself remain other to Japan—for instance, refusing to assimilate—was itself often productive.

That essay, plus some others presented that day, have been combined with many other articles (most composed as part of a series of workshops Iwamoto was holding), to create the anthology: 

Aoyama Shinji’s “Nouvelle Vague Manifesto” and Japanese Film Theory

An English translation I did of one of the Japanese film director Aoyama Shinji’s major writings on film, "Nouvelle Vague Manifesto; or, How I Became a Disciple of Philippe Garrel,” has finally appeared in print in the sixth issue of LOLA, the online film journal edited by Adrian Martin and Girish Shambu.

The article is accompanied by a short introduction I penned that explains the manifesto’s basic points and its historical place. 

I want to thank Aoyama for not only allowing me to publish this, but also for helping me find the citations for the many quotations in the piece. I also need to thank Adrian and Girish for publishing this. I did the translation years ago—and Adrian expressed interest in it years ago—so I apologize for the delay, even if some of the time taken was necessary.

Aoyama’s manifesto was published in 1997, right when he debuted as a director, and represents his thoughts on his positionality and future direction. While the manifesto never became the defining document of an organized film movement, I argue that it helps us understand not only Aoyama’s cinema, but also an in certain ways representative intervention in the cinema world at the time. As such, it can help us comprehend one definition of a politics of film style (the use of the long take, the rejection of image as representation, etc.) and how that relates to the politics of post Cold War Japan (the problem of the individual, the problem of the Other), especially in contrast to the political modernism of the 1960s New Wave. Along with Aoyama’s later essay, “The Geography of Cinema” (Eiga no chirigaku), published in his essay collection Ware eiga o hakkenseri (Seidosha, 2001), the manifesto is one of the major theoretical contributions of the time. I have used it not only in my article on Aoyama in Yvonne Tasker’s Fifty Contemporary Film Directors (Routledge, 2010), but also in my book on Kitano Takeshi.

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.

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