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. 

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Conversations in Silence 2: Fukujuso and Queer Japanese Cinema in the 1930s

I reported on the first edition of Conversations in Silence back in April. On June 11, we held the second session at Haremame, again with Kataoka Ichiro serving as benshi and Kikuchi Naruyoshi deejaying music. This time the theme was “LGBT” and we showed a rare and fascinating film made by Shinko Kinema in 1935 entitled Fukujuso (director: Kawate Jiro). The film was released as a “sound-ban,” which means it had music and possibly sound effects on the sound track, but the sound no longer exists, so we showed it as a silent film. It is based on one of the stories in Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana monogatari, and was the first of a couple films made at the time using that work. What was so interesting about the film was that it appears to strongly depict the love between two women.

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Often considered a pioneer of shojo shosetsu, Yoshiya has garnered much interest recently, as her stories narrated in elegant Japanese of the friendships of young women, often in boarding schools, have been interpreted through queer readings as explorations of lesbian sexuality. In the United States, for instance, Sarah Frederick at Boston University has been writing on and translating Yoshiya’s literature (here is one essay).

Rare Record of Japanese Movie Theater Advertising Troupe from 1929

A few people have been sharing online a YouTube video purporting to show street scenes in Kyoto from 1929. I was suspicious at first, since the same YouTube user previously also uploaded footage from the 1910s with sound added. But it does seem the video is a collection of authentic sound films of Japan in 1929, taken by Fox Movietone cameramen. The combination is sloppy, however, since at least one of scenes is not from Kyoto but from Kamakura.

What I find annoying is that these videos are not this user’s own films, but taken lock stock and barrel from the Moving Image Research Collections of the University of South Carolina. You can tell that from the watermark in the footage, but the user does little to foreground where s/he took this footage from, even though the Collection website states that "The University owns the rights to most of the material held by MIRC.” Archives, who do the hard and essential work of accumulating, preserving, and in this case, digitizing and making available online old films, should get proper credit.

Realism and the History of Japan-Soviet Film Interactions

I am currently trying to finish up my book on the history of Japanese film theory. One of the chapters I've recently worked on focused on Iwasaki Akira, arguably the most prominent leftwing critic in Japan from the 1920s to the 1970s. He’s both a legendary figure, one involved in many of the major trends in political cinema, as well as a contradictory one, as he problematically tread the spaces between cinematic art, Marxism, Soviet socialist realism, and humanism.

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Anastasia Fedorova has just published a fascinating book that accounts for part of the background for a person like Iwasaki. The title “Riarizumu no genso” can be translated as “The Illusion of Realism” and it offers a narrative that covers a significant aspect in Japanese cinema’s complex relation to realism: its interactions with Soviet cinema. She begins by detailing how Soviet avant-garde cinema and montage theory affected the mainstream Japanese film world in the 1920s and 1930s as a form of realism, one so powerful that there was even an early attempt at Japan-USSR collaboration in the 1933 travel film, Big Tokyo, directed by Vladimir Shneiderov (the book includes a transcript of the Soviet version of the film). It was the failure of that film, she argues, that led to a different Japanese appropriation of Soviet film technique in the name of politics and national culture by the documentarist Kamei Fumio, who actually studied in Moscow. The story continues into the postwar, as she first shows how a different realism—socialist realism—affected postwar Japanese film, especially the leftwing independent films of the 1950s that have largely been ignored in scholarship in Japan and the USA. Then, in what is likely to be one of the book’s most significant contributions, she argues that Japanese leftwing films’ particular appropriation of socialist realism—her main example is Kamei’s Woman Walking Alone on the Earth (Onna hitori daichi o yuku, 1953)—subsequently affected Soviet film by showing Russian filmmakers what a post-thaw cinema could look like. 

Kawabata and Cinema: The Ambivalence of Knowledge, Medium, and Influence

In 2014 I had the fortune of participating in an international symposium on the Nobel Prize winning novelist, Kawabata Yasunari, that took place in Paris. I wrote about that experience here. There I spoke about Kawabata’s relationship with cinema, a topic that was an extension of my book on A Page of Madness, a film which Kawabata helped create. Through the hard work of Wada Hirofumi and others, a Japanese anthology emerged first from that conference at the end of 2016, which contains a short version of my paper on Kawabata and film (I introduced that here). 

Well, the full version in English finally came out in January of this year. Thanks to the diligence of Michael Bourdaghs and others, the journal Japan Forum published an issue devoted to the theme “Kawabata Yasunari in the Twenty-First Century” largely composed of selected papers from the symposium. It features a wonderful piece by the novelist Tawada Yoko, as well as thought provoking scholarly articles by Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Kono Kensuke, Nihei Masato, Tomi Suzuki, and Wada Hirofumi. 

Conversations in Silence 1: A Page of Madness, a Benshi, and Music

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I forgot to announce this before it happened, but last week on April 5th, I got to participate in a rather unique event centered on Kinugasa Teinosuke’s A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji), about which I wrote a book. At the event space Haretara Sora ni Mame Maite (meaning “When it clears sow beans in the sky”—or Haremame for short), there was a screening of the film with Kataoka Ichiro doing benshi narration and the jazz musician Kikuchi Naruyoshi deejaying music for the film. Since Haremame is a small but delightful space (with tatami mats!), we used the Blu-ray of the film I discussed earlier, with permission from Flicker Alley. I introduced the film and MC’d the after-screening discussion. It was the first in a series of three silent film events called “Conversations in Silence” that the three of us will be doing at Haremame.

As I mentioned in the book, there is no historical record (that I could find), of the music that was performed with the film upon its first release, or of the style of benshi narration. What I could find is that it showed at the Tokyokan narrated by Ishii Masami and Tamai Kyokuyo with music selected by Oshima Kyotaro, or at Kyoto’s Shochikuza with Ishida Kyokka as the benshi and music arranged by Sasai Sei, to provide two instances. The great benshi Tokugawa Musei did perform the narration at Shinjuku’s Musashinokan, and there is a chance he did it in a style similar to his explanation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (check out Kyoko Omori’s collection of clips of Caligari synched with a recording of the narration that Musei provided in 1968), since Page of Madness was influenced by that work. But Naoki Sanjugo (after whom the Naoki Prize is named), when noting Musashinokan audience members praising Musei for explaining that incomprehensible film, complained that it was contradictory for a film that rejected intertitles, if not also conventional meaning making, to have a benshi. So there was the question of what role sound—both words and music—was supposed to play with this supposedly avant-garde film.

Murakami Haruki and Cinema

Just a quick note to say that I will be participating in an international colloquium on Murakami Haruki that will take place in Strasbourg and Paris this week. Hosted by Antonin Bechler of the Université de Strasbourg and Hitoshi Ishida of Toyo University, the "Colloque international 'Haruki Murakami au présent et au futur'" features a great set of participants, including a few from the Kawabata symposium in Paris a few years back. I will actually appear in the Paris section of the colloquium, which will take place at the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris on March 17, just like with the Kawabata event. I will be on a panel that will focus on Murakami’s relation to cinema. It might not be well known, but Murakami was not only an avid film fan, but he actually majored in film in college, hoping to become a screenwriter. (One paper will talk about why he didn’t become one.) My talk will be a sort of continuation of my writing on Kawabata Yasunari and film, which started with the book on A Page of Madness and continued with other publications such as this. I question the tendency to discuss the relation between film and literature by presuming a notion of cinema and then attempting to find “cinematic” elements in literature. I ask first what concept or even theory of cinema literary figures might have before considering how that shapes their writing. For the Murakami colloquium, I take the fact that Murakami, while in general refusing to allow film adaptations of most of his work, quite readily allows students to make short films based on his works (he told me that when at Yale), to consider whether that does not evince another conception of cinema on Murakami’s part.

Finally, a DVD (Actually a Blu-ray) of A Page of Madness Is Out

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I published my book on Kinugasa Teinosuke’s silent masterpiece A Page of Madness (狂った一頁, Kurutta ichipeiji, 1926) nearly ten years ago. One of my main regrets is that there has been no DVD of the film available for people to watch as they read my book or as the book is taught in classes. I have written about this before, but the National Film Center in Japan has the best print of the film (one that has been restored to its original silent aspect ratio) and has been trying to put out a DVD for years. Their lack of experience in publishing a DVD and some issues with Kinugasa’s family had long delayed the project. (Until recently, they didn’t even lend out the print because of that problem with the family.) I told them that if they don’t act soon, someone else will put out a DVD, which is what happened with a cut-rate DVD of Kinugasa’s Crossroads (Jujiro, 1928) that came out in 2009.

Well, someone has. And unlike the cheap DVD of Crossroads (which is in fact not that bad), this has actually been produced by a respectable place. The film preservationist David Shepard collaborated with Flicker Alley to put out a Blu-ray disk of A Page of Madness from a good 16mm print (likely from the once-circulating Blackhawk Films collection Shepard bought—this was probably the print I saw in graduate school when I first viewed A Page of Madness). The disk also includes Henwar Rodakiewicz’s Portrait of a Young Man (1925-31). As a bonus, there is an episode of CUNY TV’s "Cinema Then Cinema Now” featuring host Jerry Carlson leading a discussion on the film with psychoanalyst Dr. Harvey Roy Greenberg and film historian Joseph Anderson (not all they say is accurate, but the discussion is interesting nonetheless). As an online extra, Flicker Alley has posted on their site one of my essays on the film, entitled “A Page of Madness: Understanding a Work in its Time," that I penned when I was first writing the book. You can access that here.

Woman Rush Hour and Political Humor in Japan

I like a good laugh, and that is one reason I have always been interested in comedy in Japan. I wrote a book about a comedian turned film director (who didn’t shoot that many comedies), have often sought out comedy films, and even have made going to lots of yose to watch rakugo and manzai one of my goals this year in Japan. I sometimes consider it a challenge to myself, as jokes can in some cases be one of the hardest aspects to understand about a foreign culture, but it also is a way of approaching Japan from a different direction.

The manzai team Woman Rush Hour did an act on TV recently that has made me think about comedy in Japan again.

One difference that observers have noted regarding humor in Japan is the seeming lack of political satire in Japan. Although it seems that comedy in the United States, and in many other countries as well, is dominated by political humor, to the point that such comedy can be more trusted by young people for its political analysis than regular news media, there appears to be virtually none of that in Japan. I’ve read many bad explanations of that, ranging from the old claim (which I in fact encountered when I was younger) that Japanese don’t have much of a sense of humor to the Japanese-supported stereotype that such humor is not welcome in a society focused on harmony. The first is simply a product of orientalist ignorance (anyone who has been to a yose knows that Japanese comedians can be hilarious) and the second just ignores history. In fact, there have been plenty of cases of political humor from the Edo era on. Just listen to Enoken’s amazing “Is This What They Call Freedom?” from 1954—which satirizes American H-bomb tests, the Cold War “peace,” Japan’s subservient relation to the USA, the SDF, and postwar Japanese politics—and you can see there has been very biting political comedy on a popular level from long ago.

The Nichigei Film Festival: Cinema, the Emperor, and The Solitary One

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In coming to Japan for this year of research, I was eagerly expecting my first attendance at the Yamagata, Tokyo, and Filmex film festivals in eight years, even if I knew their plusses and minuses. But I was also very pleased to go to a festival that I learned about for the first time: the Nichigei Film Festival, which took place in December.

“Nichigei” stands for the Nihon Daigaku Geijutsu Gakubu, or Nihon University College of Art. The study of film at Nichidai goes back to at least 1929 and has been one of the core courses of the College of Art since it was formed in 1949. The focus has been on production, with such graduates as Ishii Gakuryū, Matsuoka Jōji, Kanai Katsu, and Adachi Masao, although there are also students researching film history. Faculty have included Ushihara Kiyohiko and Tanaka Jun’ichirō.

One of the current professors is Koga Futoshi, who has had a long career starting at the Japan Foundation and continuing with the Asahi Shinbun newspaper. At both, he organized a large number of film events and festivals. He still writes a lot on film (check out his blog) and was a member of the Asahi ratings panel with me at the TIFF. After becoming a professor at Nichigei, Koga has taught a variety of courses, but quite interestingly one for third year students is about film programming. As the main assignment for the course, students have to plan and put on a film festival of their own that will show at a regular commercial theater. This is the Nichigei Film Festival. They start by having each student put together a serious proposal for a festival, from which the best are selected and presented to Eurospace, an art theater in Shibuya, which then selects the one to put on. The students then have to arrange for renting the films, creating a catalog, arranging for advertising, and inviting guests. They then have to run the week-long festival once it starts.

TOKYO FILMeX 2017 and the Independent Cinema Guild

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Fall is the main film festival season in Japan (see my reports on this year's YIDFF and TIFF editions here, here, and here), but not all festivals are the same. Yamagata, of course, focuses on documentary (though the definition of documentary is flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of films), and the Tokyo Film Festival aims at being the Japanese edition of Cannes.

TIFF doesn’t succeed at that, which is why festivals such as Tokyo Filmex have stepped in to fill some of the gaps. Filmex is much smaller in comparison to TIFF, but it purposely avoids the big commercial films that TIFF is happy to show, concentrating instead on mostly independent films. Asia is largely the focus, and only a choice few Japanese films get shown. One exception has been the retrospective section. If the Tokyo Film Festival has largely abandoned the role a major festival has in celebrating the history of cinema, by eliminating or stripping down its retrospective sidebar, Filmex took it over and did wonderful series on lesser known masters such as Uchida Tomu, Okamoto Kihachi, and Kawashima Yuzo (I penned a piece on Kawashima for their catalog). In recent years, it has even started Tokyo Talents, which aims to help young Asian filmmakers develop their projects; the International Critics Forum, a workshop for budding film critics; as well as seminars in translation and other aspects of film. 

Tokyo International Film Festival 2017: Japanese Films

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In my last report (a little bit too long ago), I talked about my experience serving on the ratings panel at the 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival for the Asahi newspaper. Because I had to watch all fifteen Competition films I had much less time to view new Japanese movies than I hoped. Nevertheless, I did catch a number of interesting films, although the average level of the Japanese product I saw was disappointingly not that high.

First, there were two Japanese films in the Competition: Zeze Takahisa’s The Lowlife and Ooku Akiko’s Tremble All You Want, both of which produced complex but quite different reactions in me. With a background in pink film, Zeze was in some ways returning to familiar territory with a film about the AV porn industry, but The Lowlife focused on the actresses, having been based on AV actress Mana Sakura’s novel. Its boldest, yet clearly most controversial challenge, was the decision not to pursue the question of why these women appear in AV. I could agree with that, since the question itself is problematic, since it frequently revolves around social prejudices against sexuality that are not equally applied to men: people will obsess over why a woman appears in AV, but not over why a man does. Zeze instead focuses on the relationships of the women, with delicate portrayals that in the end emphasize female connections in the family. I ultimately liked the film, though some colleagues hated it and considered it no better than an AV film. I instead thought it consciously deviated from both AV and pink, in terms of narrative (the only spontaneous off-set sex in the film is a failure) and camera style (using shallow focus against the pan focus of AV), but I did recognize that with at least one woman (the older married woman Ayako), there was the danger that the hinted motivations hewed a bit too closely to the MILF genre in porn.

Tokyo International Film Festival 2017 and the Asahi “Katte ni Grand Prix” Award

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As with YIDFF 2017, this was my first Tokyo International Film Festival in eight years. I have never been that much of a fan of the TIFF, and often criticized it back when I was writing for the Daily Yomiuri (even my report in 2009 was largely critical). The TIFF was too close to the industry to have a truly independent selection, was becoming more of a contents market, and has largely abandoned its Japanese retro section, even though that should be a major role of supposedly the largest film event in Japan. Its insistence on being in the same category as Cannes and Venice means its competition will only show world premieres, even though most of the major films have been taken by more famous festivals. Still, its Asian section is well done (programmed by Ishizaka Kenji, who was on the Nihon eiga wa ikite iru editorial board with me), and the Japan Splash sidebar can occasionally introduce a good, unknown new Japanese film.

The TIFF 2017, which was its 30th edition, ended up being an opportunity to see the festival in a new light. It didn’t start off well when the festival rejected my press application, even though I applied on the same conditions as the last time (the TIFF does not accredit film academics, like the YIDFF or FILMeX do). But at the last minute, Ishitobi Noriki of the Asahi Shinbun contacted me about participating in their ratings panel. The “hoshitorihyo" is something they started last year: a panel of five experts watches all the films in the TIFF Competition, rates them, and writes short reviews, which appear on the online version of the Asahi (you can see them here; click on the film to see the reviews). The new results are uploaded every day during the festival. This year the panel was Hata Sahoko (a film critic and the person who bought Godard’s Breathless for Japan—and thought up its great Japanese title: Katte ni shiyagare), Sugino Kiki (a film director and actress), Koga Futoshi (a film programmer and professor at Nihon University), Ishitobi, and myself. 

Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2017

Even though I once worked for the YIDFF, this year’s festival was my first since 2009, so my first impression one of nostalgia. Seeing the same old places, meeting old friends, drinking at Komian, basking in the intellectual atmosphere of the festival. This year’s festival had many great moments, but I also felt the YIDFF also needs to look back a bit more at the past.

I had some obligations, especially helping my wife a little at the Daily Bulletin (I penned a short piece for them looking back on its history, since I worked there during the 1993 festival). So I couldn’t see everything I wanted to. I saw a few non-Japanese films, and was particularly impressed with John Gianvito’s Wake (Subic) (which shows some significant influence from Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s work) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, but I focused mostly on Japanese films. Unfortunately, there weren’t many that thrilled me.

Possibly the most interesting were Yamashiro Chikako’s works, The Beginning of Creation/A Child and A Woman of the Butcher Shop, which were showing in New Asian Currents (which I programmed back in 1995). Both were originally installation pieces and would be hard to call documentary under a traditional definition (Yamashiro-san told me this was in fact the first time her works had been shown in a movie theater). The first was a record of Kawaguchi Takeo’s effort to literally draw out and emulate Ohno Kazuo’s dance; the second a more narrative exposition of gender and occupation in Okinawa (I have to keep this in mind if I ever update my article on representations of Okinawa). While both exhibit a strong, and often political concern for the body, if not also a desire to return to origins (the sea, the same cave in both), the two are also very aware of mediation, to the point of thinking about the materiality of digital video.

Early Cinema in Asia and One Print in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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One of the favorites among the articles I have written is “One Print in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” a piece I wrote for the online peer-reviewed film journal Screening the Past. In it I tried to come to grips with one of the oddities that tends to define early cinema in Japan: the fact that for much of the silent period, film studios only produced one print of the movies they made, even though they had technology to produce many more. In a play on one of the translations of the title of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, I was asking why the Japanese film world seemed to be shunning the definition of cinema as an art of mechanical reproduction.

The article was also an opportunity for me to engage in various methodologies. Basically, this was an exercise in industrial history, but I put forward and tested various hypotheses about the reasons for this practice, starting with the economic, but then proceeding to issues of society, politics, and culture. It was a way to start thinking about the material versus cultural determinations of Japanese cinema—or our inability to separate them. It also provided me with an early opportunity to talk about the culture of “mixture” I elaborated on in Visions of Japanese Modernity, and which Miriam Silverberg described in different terms in Erotic Grotesque Nonsense. While I don’t think it is one of my best essays, it was one I enjoyed writing and still think is important.

When You Appear on Wikipedia

I noticed this a few weeks ago, but it seems there is now an article about me on the English language Wikipedia. Here is the original and here is a screenshot:

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Having dabbled a bit on Wikipedia, I know there are notability standards for whether some person (or thing) gets an article, so I feel a bit honored that someone thought me notable enough. (No, I did not write it myself!) Looking at the history, I can see there was actually a bit of a squabble over notability when it first appeared, but that seems to have settled down. (You never know, though, whether someone will still not nominate it for deletion.) I also see that someone first created it a couple of years ago and it languished in the Draft space on Wikipedia for a long time, so it was clearly not a shoo-in on the encyclopedia. 

As with anything written about me, I am somewhat embarrassed about the whole thing and don’t really want to read it. But it does seem they get a few things wrong. I don’t still contribute to the Eigei Best Ten and I long ago ceased writing reviews for the Daily Yomiuri (which no longer exists, by the way, at least under that name). Yet it does seem someone does know my work enough to offer a decent description of Visions of Japanese Modernity.

Japan, TV Dramas and Film Theory

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This post is just a personal note.

As some of you know, I am now in Japan. That’s not unusual, because I spend every summer in this country. But this time I will be here for a year, the first full year I will spend in Japan since 2009-2010. I have taken advantage of one term of earned leave from Yale and combined it with a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (see my page here) to give me twelve months (plus a bit more) in Japan to do research and writing. It will also be nice to experience Japanese falls, and springs, and Oshogatsu. I’ll also do a little traveling to Kansai and other spots.

The main plan is to finish my book on the history of Japanese film theory. I’ve done a lot of research, as well as presented aspects of it on multiple occasions (herehere, here, here, here, here, here, etc.), but there is still research that needs to be done in Japan. I also need the time to write it all up. 

So even though I will be in Japan, I will mostly be in libraries or at home writing. But I do intend to go out once in a while to watch movies and attend special events. I will definitely be at the Yamagata Film Festival, and will try to attend others festivals like Tokyo FilmEx. I may also give a talk here and there. 

Media Theory in Japan, Television, and the Forgetting of Film

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I have a piece out in new anthology from Duke entitled Media Theory in Japan. It is edited by Alex Zahlten of Harvard and Marc Sternberg of Concordia, and is based in an intense workshop that took place at Harvard in November 2013. Their project parallels mine: if I have been endeavoring to bring to light the history of film theory in Japan, they have been doing the same for media theory. One sign that the two intersect is the fact that they chose one of the pieces I selected for the “Decentering Theory” special issue to include in their anthology: Kitada Akihiro great essay on Nakai Masakazu’s theory of media.

The Duke anthology includes essays by Yuriko Furuhata, Takeshi Kadobayashi, Marilyn Ivy, Miryam Sas, Tomiko Yoda, Ryoko Misono (sadly, a posthumous contribution), Anne McKnight, Fabian Schäfer, Keisuke Kitano, and Tom Looser on such topics as the Tange Lab, Azuma Hiroki, McLuhan in Japan, Nancy Seki, Rokudenashiko, Kobayashi Hideo, and the Kyoto School. 

My contribution was placed at the beginning, in part because it questions the concept of new media through a historical analysis of some early theories of television in Japan. If, as Lev Manovich as argued, new media often repeat older media, my essay considers how new media theory can repeat that of older media. Focusing on one of the groundbreaking moments in development of television theory in Japan—the 1958 issue of Shisō devoted to the new medium—and in particular the ideas of its central figure, the sociologist Shimizu Ikutarō, I note how claims about television’s unique relation to the everyday forgot similar claims about cinema’s relation to the mundane made decades before by Gonda Yasunosuke and others. I argue that such forgetting functioned in part to repress the historical politics of the everyday, or more specifically, the history of media’s relationship with the everyday. In the end, the debate over the everyday was not just about which media was closer to the everyday or what constituted the mediated everyday, but also about the relation of theory to the everyday—the everydayness of theory.

Matsumoto Toshio dies at age 85

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Matsumoto Toshio (松本俊夫), a major figure in postwar Japanese cinema and film theory, passed away on 12 April 2017 at the age of 85. This is a great shock to me, not only because of his immense contributions to Japanese film and image culture, but also because of all the help he provided for my career.

Matsumoto-san is of course well known for his work as a feature film director, with Funeral Parade of Roses (the photo at the right is of him in the film) and Dogura Magura being two of his most famous works. He started out in documentary, however, joining Shin Riken after studying aesthetics at the University of Tokyo. It was through documentary that I first came to know him. In 1993, the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival did a retrospective of Japanese documentaries of the 1960s, curated by Yasui Yoshio of Planet, which featured four of Matsumoto-san’s films: Nishijin (1961), The Song of Stones (1963), Mothers (1967), and For My Crushed Right Eye (1968). One of my first tasks for the YIDFF was translating much of the retro catalog, so I first read Matsumoto before seeing his works. While Mothers was the least interesting of the four, his exploration of the image—from the still photographs of The Song of Stones to the multi-projector For My Crushed Right Eye—stood out amid the documentary of the time. 

Nakadai Tatsuya Interview on FilmStruck

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This is just a short post, but I wanted to let you know that an on-camera interview I did for Criterion with the actor Nakadai Tatsuya is now being shown on Criterion’s streaming service, FilmStruck. We invited Nakadai-san to Yale last fall for a truly wonderful event, but he spent good amount of time in New York City before and after Yale. It was about a week after his Yale visit that I went down to NYC to do the interview at the Criterion office. My task was to ask Nakadai-san about his experiences with working with five directors whose films Criterion handles: Kurosawa Akira, Kobayashi Masaki, Naruse Mikio, Okamoto Kihachi, and Teshigahara Hiroshi. I’m not that experienced at these things, but Nakadai-san was full of wonderful stories and the Criterion crew made it (including me) look good.

You have to subscribe to FilmStruck to see it in full, but you can see a snippet featuring Nakadai-san talking about the famous duel at the end of Kurosawa's Sanjuro here on the Criterion site.

Ogino Shigeji, Ofuji Noburo, and Classic Japanese Animation

Even the BBC has reported on this, so the news has spread that the National Film Center in Japan, in collaboration with the Agency for Cultural Affairs and other institutions, has opened the website Japanese Animated Film Classics to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese animation. The site features 64 pre-WWII animated films that can be viewed in full, some with English subtitles. (Right now, the site itself is only in Japanese, though an English site is supposed to be opened soon.) 

Naturally, the site offers a number of important works, starting with Kouchi Jun’ichi’s The Dull Sword (Namakura-gatana), which is counted as one of the first three Japanese-made animated films released in 1917. Kitayama Seitaro, who directed one of the other two (which are not extant), is partially represented through one of his 1918 works, Urashima Taro. Other animators featured include such greats as Masaoka Kenzo, Yamamoto Sanae, and Murata Yasuji. I was particularly happy to see Seo Mitsuyo’s Arichan the Ant (1941) included, since that is not only another example of the work of the director of the two, greatly celebrated wartime Momotaro films, but also reportedly the first use of the multiplanar camera in Japan. 

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