News and Opinion

H1N1, SCMS and the Japanese Bureaucracy

Alt-SCMS is over and done with - and not a single person sick or quarantined (so far?). It was a great success: nearly 250 participants, great help from Josai International and Waseda universities, and cooperation all around. You're used to many people taking too long to read their papers at conferences like this, but it was as if this time everyone understood the special circumstances behind this gathering and managed themselves admirably. The National Film Center put on a great screening of Ogino Shigeji animated shorts, including one, An Expression (1935), in color; a Saito Torajiro slapstick short; Naruse Mikio's Each Night I Dream; and Ishida Tamizo's stunning Flowers Have Fallen. And every film earned a hearty round of applause. The film directors Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Aoyama Shinji did a great talk on the state of their work and the industry (more on that later). And USC and the MacArthur Foundation hosted a wonderful final party at Super Deluxe. Markus Nornes, Akira Lippit and I ended up being the main organizers, but there was a lot of help from many directions.

Alt-SCMS: The JIU Media Studies Department Media Workshop

One of the big chances for Japanese film studies was going to be the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in 2009. It was going to be the first time SCMS, the world's biggest film and media studies organization, was going to meet in Japan and it was going to be a great opportunity for those of us in Japanese film studies - as well as people in the film world in Japan - to present what they do to a world that has often been looking elsewhere. But unfortunately, due to reaction (some would say over-reaction) to the H1N1 virus by Japanese health officials, SCMS ended up canceling at the last minute (I'll talk more about this later). This deeply hurt all those who spend months organizing this thing. But the people rule! Lots of people said they wanted to present anyway, so with the help of Josai International University, which was originally the host of SCMS, we're doing an "alternative SCMS" tomorrow! Come one and come all - but be prepared for a health check at the door!

How to Research Japanese Cinema

Did you ever want to study Japanese cinema but didn't know where to start? Or got started but soon got lost in the confusing maze of materials? Or want to find a film or a book or some important document at a library or archive but didn't know where to go? Or want to find out about a movie but were confused by conflicting information in databases? Or start acquiring your own library of basic texts? Or find out more about the state of Japanese film studies and its future?

This may sound like an old-fashioned sales pitch, but if you answered yes to any of these, hopefully we have the book for you: Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies. Over the decades we've spent studying Japanese cinema, Abé Mark Nornes and I have been accumulating lists of important books, archives, databases, etc., and evaluating them for ourselves and our students. Now we've put all that together in book form to create a reference work that we hope can help most anyone interested in finding out more about Japanese cinema. In includes a guide to archives and libraries around the world with Japan-related materials, an extensive and annotated bibliography of fundamental reference works mostly in English and Japanese, guides to film distributors and used book and video stores, an introduction to online resources, and answers to frequently asked questions about how to work with Japanese film (such as finding films or stills or scripts, creating staff and cast info, getting contact or box office info, using Japanese names, etc.). Five indexes help users not only navigate the book, but also in many cases locate which book or archive to access for a particular research topic. We also hope Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies can help individuals and libraries start building their own reference collection, as well as scholars think more about the history of Japanese film studies and its future. It's a broadly designed book directed at a wide audience and usable for many needs. We even throw in a few fun travel tips for those going to Japan!

Hara Kazuo and Kobayashi Sachiko

This last weekend I traveled to Berkeley to participate in a symposium on the Japanese documentarist Hara Kazuo, sponsored by the Pacific Film Archive and the UC Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies, and put on to mark the publication by Kaya Press of an English translation of some of Hara's writings entitled Camera Obstrusa: The Action Documentaries of Hara Kazuo. Hara-san was in attendance, along with his partner Kobayashi Sachiko. On Saturday, the PFA showed two of his films, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 and The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On. The Q and A sessions did not provide much that was new, but they did reiterate some important points. For instance, while some in the audience insisted on reading these films through a social or political politics (i.e., that The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On is about exposing Japanese war responsibility), Hara emphasized that these works are mainly about dynamic individuals and his complex relations to them. It is that interaction that is the reality recorded in these films, not just the history of the war or 1970s gender politics.

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