Eiga Geijutsu Kenkyu and Film Theory in Japan

The second in my series of reprints of prewar film studies/film theory journals at Yumani Shobo has come out. This follows the reprint of Eiga kagaku kenkyu, the late 1920s and early 1930s journal which featured filmmakers inquiring over what cinema is (see my introduction here).

EGK new

Eiga geijutsu kenkyu (Studies in Film Art) was a more heavily theoretical and academic journal, which ran for two and a half years from early 1933 to late 1935. It stood out for its quite long articles investigating conceptual topics ranging from film aesthetics to psychoanalysis and cinema. While it also devoted many pages to translations of both famous and less famous foreign theory, it was a journal that showed the confidence of its often quite young writers in critiquing that theory and composing their own ideas. That said, the journal was not necessarily revolutionary in its stance towards film theory. As I wrote in the commentary, the leader of the journal, Sasaki Norio, still had one foot in German romantic aesthetics, which rejected standard forms of cinematic realism, even as he began exploring a more sociological approach to cinema. Still, new writers such as Sugiyama Heiichi began pointing to new theoretical directions. Eiga geijutsu kenkyu was in many ways a transitional journal, indicating the shift in aesthetics as film realism came to the fore in the late 1930s. 

Here is the blurb I wrote for the publicity catalog:

Cinema is said represent the modern age of the twentieth century. But if the goal of film theory is to ask what cinema is, to pursue its modernity, and investigate its differences from other media, why is it that Japanese film theory is not known much even in Japan? Even though Japan has produced many of the masterpieces of world cinema, and featured a lively film theoretical sphere, the introductions to film theory published in Japan barely touch on that. This reprint of Eiga geijutsu kenkyu (Studies in Film Art) offers an opportunity to correct that omission. Edited by Sasaki Norio and Sasaki Fumio, who themselves introduced many works of Euro-American film theory to Japan, Eiga geijutsu kenkyu was a revolutionary film studies journal in its time. It did not stop just at vigorously pursuing such universal issues as the aesthetics of cinema and the talkies, cinematic realism, psychoanalysis and film, adaptations of literature and theater into film, the place of film criticism, the social and cultural status of cinema, as well as problems of copyright, the fact it often did so in long-form articles was unique to the time. In addition to works by famous foreign theorists like Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Arnheim, the domestic writers, many of whom were graduates of Tokyo University, especially of its Department of Aesthetics, helped establish the Japanese film theory world through their own analysis of such issues. In addition to such academic articles, filmmakers or culture critics such as Naruse Mikio, Shimazu Yasujiro, Takigawa Shuzo, Kamei Fumio, Iijima Tadashi, and Chiba Kameo pursued the connections between theory and practice. Symbolic of this practice was the fact that the reviews of films by Ozu Yasujjiro, Mizoguchi Kenji, or Kinugasa Teinosuke printed in each issue were not called “film reviews” but “film studies.” It is clear that Eiga geijutsu kenkyu was one of the journals to lay the foundations of film studies in Japan.

The 17-page commentary I wrote in Japanese (inserted at the end of Volume 9) delves more deeply into the history of the journal and its characteristics.

The reprint includes all the 18 issues produced of the journal, compiled in nine volumes. As with many reprints, it is expensive (nearly $2000), and is not made with purchase by individuals in mind. The publication is aimed at libraries, and I hope as many can purchase it as possible. We sold enough of Eiga kagaku kenkyu that Yumani okayed the next one, so I hope the series can continue.

Here is the bibliographic data and links to information on the reprint

  • Eiga geijutsu kenkyu / 映画芸術研究. 9 vols. Yumani Shobo, 2020-2021. ISBN 978-4-8433-5717-0
  • Yumani Shobo page for the reprint. Includes a link to a PDF of the publicity pamphlet.

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