SOLUTION: Japanese Art Cinema Discussion

SOLUTION: Japanese Art Cinema Discussion.

Concepts this week
• Auteurs
• Art Film and Art House Theaters
• Popular cinema
1920s modern Japan
• 1923 Tokyo earthquake
• city was rebuilt and highly
• new film studio facilities,
expanding industry
• Ironically, during the
classic era, one major
focus of Japanese cinema
would be stories set in
pre-modern times
Pre-War Japanese Cinema
• Vertically integrated studio system dates back to the 1920s
• Films were influenced by both Hollywood and European avantgarde movements (especially German Expressionism)
• Genre films
• Studio system gave director and screenwriter more creative control
than Hollywood
• The major auteurs of classic post-war Japanese cinema worked
within the studio system, some dating back to the 1920s or 30s
• In Japan, Hollywood film did not dominate
Pre-War Japanese Cinema
• Silent cinema coexisted with sound cinema during 1930s
• Economic: transition was expensive
• Cultural: tradition of the benshi, or live narrator in film
Wartime Japanese Cinema
• Militaristic totalitarian government rises
• Japanese cinema under government control
• Most films produced had to support national
• State control revoked
• Nationalist films prohibited, hundreds of older
films destroyed
• Films feature critique, reflected appeal to
Western ideals
Second Sino-Japanese War

Japan largest Imperial power in
Militaristic totalitarian Japanese
government, sought to extend
Empire in Asia
Japan invaded China and began
occupation, 1937
Japan invaded USSR and Mongolia,
Japan-China stalemate, 1940
Japan began invasion in Indochina
(Vietnam), 1940
From Sino-Japanese War to WWII

To gain control of Asia:
Japan attacked U.S. and European
colonies in the Pacific, including
Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), Siam
(Thailand) bases, and Hong Kong
(British colony), 1941

U.S. and European allies declare
war on Japan
European and Asian wars become
integrated battles as World War II

Japan initially victorious in
conquering new territories

The Pacific front of WWII spanned
Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand,
Philippines, Burma, New Guinea
WWII and Aftermath

U.S. military drops atomic bombing of
Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945
International controversy and national
Japanese surrender of WWII in September
U.S. occupied Japan during aftermath, 194552
Japan returns to modernization, becomes
market and technology leader

Korea, previously under Japanese control,
released and divided into North and South

China resumed Communist rule
Post-war Japanese Cinema
• Japanese cinema came to international prestige in the post-WWII
• This had major cultural and historical significance
• Historical films (jidai-geki) and swordfight films (chambara)
returned to prominence
• Historical films had been banned during war
• Reinstated mythology of Japanese heritage
• Creative traditional image for world
• During a period of modernization and market development
Japanese Cinema at Venice Film Festival

Japanese historical films debuted at film
festivals, such as Venice, in the early 1950s

Rashomon won the golden lion (top prize)
at Venice in 1951, won Academy Award for
foreign film

Ugetsu won the silver lion at Venice in

Turning point in international recognition
of Japanese cinema

Asian Film Festival in Tokyo began in 1954
Further reinforced Japanese cinema with
cosmopolitan connotations of art
Japanese post-war cinema
• Major genres:
• Home Drama (shomin-geki) – negotiates modern issues, family
• Example: Tokyo Story
• Historical Film (jidai-geki) – stages traditional image of Japan
• Examples: Rashomon, Ugetsu
• Historical swordfight film (chambara) – combines heritage/tradition
with action
• Example: The Seven Samurai
• Question: why would these emerge as major genres?
Japanese historical films
• Such exports were viewed as highly
stylized, masterful works of art
• Created and reflected an exotic,
Orientalist view of Japan
• These films were allegories of
contemporary Japan but suggested
a mythical, traditional Japan
• Historical films were made, in part,
for the international market
• Contemporary films about modern
Japan (gendai-geki) were also
made, but did not circulate as
widely internationally

Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari)
dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

Literary adaptation
Set in 16th century, during civil war

Stages the struggles, ambitions,
delusions, and losses of war
Allegory for recent events (WWII),
but also has supernatural fantasy

Long take and fluid crane camera
movements rather than emphasis on
Fluidly moves between reality and
fantasy/spiritual realm

Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari)
dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

Clip one:
Commentary on greed in a time of
war (would continue to be relevant
during post-war boom)

Formal qualities:
Camera movement navigates
complex spaces, follows actor
through crowd
• Deep space and long take instead
of shot/reverse-shot
• Framing within the frame

Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari)
dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953

Clip two:
Complexities of tone and narrative,
three narrative threads:
Mystification and sensuality
Fear and tragedy
Heroism and violence

The bewitching Lady Wakasa is
played by Machiko Kyô, who also
stars in Rashomon
Politics of Postwar Cinema
• The promotion and circulation of Japanese cinema in the U.S. and
Western Europe in the 1950s suggested not just the exotic
• But also, importantly, reinforced that the U.S./the western allies
had won WWII
• Japan and Japanese cinema was opened up to the U.S./Western
Europe, suggesting an alliance, in contrast to China and the Eastern
European communist bloc
Politics of Postwar Cinema
• Contradictions:
• Japanese cinema both viewed as “other” (exotic, mysterious, and
intriguing) and as gesture toward alliance/assimilation
• Presented images of traditional Japanese art and history during a
time of domestic modernization
• Historical films can be read as allegories of recent Japanese history
or they can be read “apolitically” through the lens of formalism
Japanese post-war cinema
• The Japanese cinema that circulated internationally in the period was
understood as “art cinema”
• The films’ form did not adhere to Hollywood or European studio
• Different conventions and experiments with narrative, structure, pacing,
framing, editing
• Japanese cinema, imported, was not a “popular” cinema but a rarified
• Understood in relation to European art films
• Alternatively: Japanese popular cinema exemplified by Godzilla (1954)
Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa
Best known and most influential Japanese
director outside Japan during the post-war

Stray Dog, 1949
Rashomon, 1950
Ikiru (To Live), 1952
Seven Samaurai, 1954
Throne of Blood, 1957
The Lower Depths, 1957
The Hidden Fortress, 1958
The Bad Sleep Well, 1960
Yojimbo (The Bodyguard), 1961
High and Low, 1963
Feature Screening

Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1950
Starring Tashiro Mifune and Machiko Kyô
Introduced Japanese cinema to international acclaim

Elaborate narrative structure:
Multiple temporalities
Extensive flashbacks
Conflicting testimonies
Ambiguity of truth
Reflects post-war questioning of truth and history
Questions morality of mankind

Advisory: One version of the story portrays the woman
“liking” sexual assault
Later re-enactment challenges myth of samaurai
virility and nobility

Feature Screening

Different styles for different parts:
Present-day (framing story), trial testimony, and
flashbacks each shot with different framing techniques

Static framing vs camera movement

Refuses shot/reverse-shot
Frontal or perpendicular framing (in contrast to
Hollywood and European 3/4 framing)

Ravel’s “Bolero” as score
Use of technologically modified voice for the medium
Alternation between narration and minimal dialogue
Japanese post-war cinema
• The Japanese cinema that circulated internationally in the period was
understood as “art cinema”
• The films’ form did not adhere to Hollywood or European studio
• Different conventions and experiments with narrative, structure, pacing,
framing, editing
• Japanese cinema, imported, was not a “popular” cinema but a rarified
• Understood in relation to European art films
• Alternatively: Japanese popular cinema exemplified by Godzilla (1954)
Concept: Auteurs

Auteur: French word for “author,” often used in film criticism to attribute
authorial vision to directors

Japanese cinema of the post-war period was understood, outside of Japan,
almost entirely through the lens of three directors:

Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon)
known for dynamic editing, youngest, most popular and accessible to
Western audiences

Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu)
known for elaborate long takes and dissolves, distant framings, developing

Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story)
known for humor, low-angle framing, cut-aways, deviations of the 180 degree
rule, static compositions, silences and codas, family dramas, generational
belatedly emerged as the most-studied Japanese auteur

Japanese Auteurs
• Japanese cinema came to prominence around
the same time that interest in the auteur also
became prominent
• Japanese cinema has been understood, from
the 1950s on, through an auteur framework
• Tokyo Story
• Yasujiro Ozu, 1953
• Home Drama (shomin-geki)
• Generational difference, family dynamics
• An elderly couple visits their children and
grandchildren in Tokyo

Clip one:
Framing, editing, and spatial relations
Geometric tableau
• Clip two:
• Family dynamics
• Clip three:
• Tour of Tokyo
• The faithful step-daughter
Art Film
• Most “art films” are narrative, feature-length films
• In the US in the post-war period, these are usually
international films
• They are not experimental or avant-garde
• But do have a personal sensibility, style, and
narrative structure distinct from Hollywood
Art Film
• Post-war boom in theaters that specialize in art
cinema, foreign films: called “art house theaters”
• Growth in number of art house theaters in the
U.S. from 80 in 1950 to 450 in 1963
• Distributors specializing in “art films”
Rise of art films
• Increasing recognition of film as an art form
• Rise of film criticism, film appreciation, film studies
• Feature length films that deviated from expectations of conventional
classical Hollywood cinema; these were narrative films, not
experimental films
• Cultural cachet of “progressive” European texts: France, Sweden
• Cultural distinction in an age of social conformity
• Class mobility, refined tastes: distinguish self from middle-class tastes
Rise of art cinema
• Exoticness
• Interest in foreign cultures, particularly those that
were from formerly “enemy” nations but that had
become allies: Italy, Japan
• Associations with permissive sexuality
Rise of art cinema


Reduced Hollywood productions:
Domestic quotas outside U.S. had limited Hollywood export profits
Hollywood was competing with TV in the U.S.
Anti-trust break-up of the Hollywood studios (we’ll talk about this later
this quarter)

Strengthened national cinema industries protected by quotas and other
government incentives
Rise of international film festival circuit

Rise of art cinema
• Between 1946 and 1956, Hollywood productions dropped 28
percent, while the number of films imported rose 132 percent
• Hollywood still dominant, but the range of films diversified
viewing options
Rise of art cinema
• Operative tension:
• Art house cinemas and distributors promoted films
as art
• But they were also businesses
• Many struggled for commercial stability and profit
• This tension remains, as many independent and art
film distributors continue to emerge and go bankrupt
Art House Theaters
• During the 1950s, specific theaters became known
specifically for screening foreign films, particularly in
New York and Boston or near college campuses
• These venues had large repeat business and became
identified with particular kinds of films or particular

Foreign films had been imported by independent
distributors, including exploitation distributors, and by
Hollywood studios

Janus Films (1956-)
Distributed films first-run films by Ingmar Bergman,
Federico Fellini, and François Truffaut
Emerged as the most prominent distributor of foreign art
films in U.S.

In mid-late 1960s, began amassing a library of classic films
and distributing programs or specific titles in response to a
rise of film societies and college programs on film
Came to largely reflect and define the “canon” of classic art
films, including works by Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi

Partners with the Criterion Collection, much of the
collection is comprised of Janus Films

Recently released Drive My Car in the U.S.
Who defines art cinema?


Distribution companies often define the tastes and
categories of “art” cinema at different moments

Janus in the post-war period

Miramax and Sony Pictures Classics, among others in the

Neon and A24, among others, today


Art house cinemas and chains: Laemmle cinemas (LA-area)
and Landmark Cinemas (nationally)
Criterion Channel
Film Festivals

Concept: Popular cinema

Entertainment cinema with mass appeal
Often viewed as formulaic and artless
Often not taken seriously by critics, overlooked by scholars
“Low” culture
What art cinema defines itself against
• Common genres: comedies, action, sci-fi, horror, superhero movies
• High/low culture distinctions less pervasive today than in past
• BUT pervasive anxieties that Marvel will become the only kind of
• Popular cinema may tell us more about a culture than art cinema
Popular Cinema

Godzilla (Gojira)
Dir. Ishiro Honda

Begins with atomic flash
H-bomb tests in the ocean have awakened
jurassic creature from deep ocean caves
Godzilla is radioactive
Local myth vs. science
Ethics of science: study or kill?
Will new technologies to stop Gozilla be turned
into weapons of mass destruction?

Americanized edit released in U.S. as Godzilla,
King of the Monsters in 1956
Discussion Direction
Part 1: One 150-word statement and/or question related to at least one of the following key terms
• Chose a key term and define it.
• Explain how this term is relevant in the context of the time period & films, don’t focus on
present day.
• You can ask a question about the term if you’re confused about its meaning or use, but make it
clear that you have thought about it, explain what part of it is confusing, etc.
Part 2: One 150-word statement and/or question responding to at least one of the two screenings
• You might discuss the film in the context of the time period… how did it exemplify or push
against the norms of the time?
• You might focus on one or more techniques used in the film that are iconic, representative of
the time, or relate to key terms.
• This is not a place for your personal review of the film. No need to explain if you liked it or
not, if it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, if it ‘worked well’… these are vague critiques & can be included
but aren’t enough on their own. Why did it ‘work well’? If it felt awkward, what about it made
it so?
• Good idea to pick out a specific scene & analyze it, show how it relates to concepts or uses
• If you ask a question, it should be well thought out and specific. General wonderings about the
film, the producers, etc. won’t be sufficient.
• We are most concerned with craft, technique, and how concepts translate into the actual
making of a film. We are not particularly interested in the content or themes, except as they
relate to craft & technique, so your response should focus on those elements, rather than plot,
storyline, or personal opinion.
Part 3: One 150-word analysis connecting the screening to one of the key terms (You can use
different key terms and screenings from part 1 and 2)
• Focus on one screening & one key term so that you can dig in enough.
• Pick out one or two specific scenes or examples of the key term working in the screening. How
is it used specifically here? Why might they have chosen to use it in this way? What does it do
for/how does it relate to the film overall?
• If you want to ask a question, make it specific to perhaps a particular scene where you think
perhaps this key term is happening but you aren’t certain. Or maybe multiple key terms could
be seen in this particular scene and you’re not sure how to parse them.
• Again, this is not a place to give your personal review of the movie and its use of the key term.
Whether you think the filmmakers did it well or not isn’t really relevant, but you can use your
opinion to show how it wasn’t successful (if you think so) by explaining how it was used in a
particular scene.
Response Section
• Saying you ‘liked’ what they said or that you ‘think they did a good job’ is not enough on its
own. What about their post was intriguing to you or ‘well said’? Did it challenge you to think
about something in a new way or question your own ideas, and how? Do you think perhaps
they misunderstood a concept or screening, and why?
• You might point out something they said that you agree with and then add to it, give another
example of a similar thing, etc.
• If you don’t quite understand something they said, you can ask a question… but again, make it
specific. Just asking something like “why did you like this film or this scene?” is too vague.

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