Visions of Japanese Modernity


Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925 (University of California Press, 2010).

After a long wait, my "magnum opus" is finally out. Here's the main blurb:

"Japan has done marvelous things with cinema, giving the world the likes of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. But cinema did not arrive in Japan fully formed at the end of the nineteenth century, nor was it simply adopted into an ages-old culture. Aaron Gerow explores the processes by which film was defined, transformed, and adapted during its first three decades in Japan. He focuses in particular on how one trend in criticism, the Pure Film Movement, changed not only the way films were made, but also how they were conceived. Looking closely at the work of critics, theorists, intellectuals, benshi artists, educators, police, and censors, Gerow finds that this trend established a way of thinking about cinema that would reign in Japan for much of the twentieth century."

I was very fortunate that some people whom I really respect wrote some kind recommendations for the book:

"Visions of Japanese Modernity is the single best account of the formation of Japanese cinema. Deftly drawing on film discourses, regulations, and exhibition practices, it brilliantly brings into focus one of the most exuberant and contested moments in the history of cinema. It not only sets new standards for film history but also plants the seeds for a counterhistory to cinema as such."--Thomas LaMarre, author of The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation

"In this landmark study, Aaron Gerow richly demonstrates the vibrancy of Japanese film culture as no book has done before. Visions of Japanese Modernity is centered on the contentious Pure Film Movement, and the transformations it helped provoke in performance, screenwriting, censorship, film style, and benshi oratory. With virtually no extant films to work with, Gerow strategically turns to a multitude of other sources, including fanzines, popular movie magazines, sociological studies, government regulations, and impressive works of early film theory. Rich in detail and lucidly argued, Visions of Modernity provides a model for writing about filmmaking in its social, political and aesthetic contexts."--Abé Mark Nornes, author of Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema

"Gerow offers not only a benchmark in the study of Japanese cinema, but a major contribution to world film history; a thoroughly researched and complexly argued 'discursive' history of early Japanese cinema, that avoids approaching it simply as an alternative to western cinema and reveals the unique role cinema played in the formulation of modern Japanese culture. Gerow makes clear the foundations of Japanese film history in the silent era--and how it shaped the complex and exciting national cinema that followed."--Tom Gunning, author of D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: THE EARLY YEARS AT BIOGRAPH

"A formidable introduction, a demanding text that, although plumy with scholarship and academic nomenclature, helps the nonspecialist reader to situate his ideas, concur with, or reject the notions of other film historians. . . . A work of film connoisseurship, an effort to define film and the search for a discourse on modernity in the early formative years of Japanese cinema, this erudite work will also appeal to readers who wish to know more about the social and cultural conditions of the times."--Stephen MansfieldThe Japan Times


You can buy the book in hardbound or paperback versions at Amazon. There is even a Kindle edition. You can also get it straight from the press.

A Japanese version will be published by the University of Tokyo Press.

I also discussed the book and gave the table of contents on my blog. An excerpt from the book is available on my site on the Yale repository

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