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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Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation at Japan Cuts 2020

スクリーンショット 2020-07-14 午前10.16.50

As mentioned in my last post, I’m still quarantining in Japan. But I wanted to let everyone know about a panel discussion I did on the work of the late filmmaker Obayashi Nobuhiko for this year’s edition of Japan Cuts. We recorded it on June 23 and it will go live online starting on July 17 here

As anyone who’s read this blog knows, my relationship with Obayashi goes back many years, beginning with simply watching him as a spectator until I finally met him in 2014. We hosted him at Yale in 2015, immediately after which the Japan Society ran an Obayashi retrospective that I programmed. I was even honored to write a short contribution to a book that Obayashi published. When he passed away in April this year, after his long battle with cancer, I wrote up a remembrance that, while still quite feeble, hopefully gives a sense of what Obayashi meant to me and to my family.

In late May, Kazu Watanabe of the Japan Society contacted me about the possibility of moderating a panel on Obayashi for this year’s Japan Cuts, which due to COVID-19 was going online this year. Japan Cuts was not only going to be showing Obayashi’s last film, Labyrinth of Cinema, along with a documentary on Obayashi and his wife/producer Kyoko, it was creating a new award for its Next Generation section named after Obayashi. Kazu explained that the festival wanted to hold some form of commemorative event on Obayashi that would be online.

Traveling to Japan in the COVID Era

This is not a piece about film, but friends suggested I post it as a kind of public service, reporting on what it was like to fly to Japan in early July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll add a little extra about movies at the end. This account is also somewhat of a continuation of my series of posts about Japan during the pandemic, which I hope you can look at here and here.

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My wife (who is a Japanese national) and I were pretty sure we were not going to be able to make our yearly summer trip back to Japan, but issues arose with our house in Yokohama and there were strong fears I would lose my permanent resident status if I didn’t return. So we dug into our pocket and bought tickets. The first flight to Haneda was cancelled, so we had to rebook to go to Narita. We left on Monday, July 6, from New York. Terminal 7 at JFK (photo to the right) was empty with only one of the many shops open. I think there were only four flights leaving that day from the terminal. We flew ANA to Narita, and they boarded us in groups to avoid too much mixing. Still, probably only a third of the seats were occupied, even in economy. So whether this was intentional or not, social distancing was rather easy. We wiped everything down, wore masks, used hand sanitizer constantly, and cut down on the trips to the bathroom. Everyone wore masks, but a few wore hazmat suits and/or protective shields or goggles. We debated whether to eat the inflight food, but decided it wasn’t different from eating the food we’ve had delivered at home. The only problem is I stupidly kept on forgetting to put my mask back on after eating! It was a good flight, but it was hard to sleep so I watched a bunch of movies (more on that later). The flight arrived early probably because there is much less international travel.

Japanese Film and the COVID Pandemic—Remotely in Space and Time

スクリーンショット 2020-06-01 午後5.17.18

When there is a world historical event, it is best to write down your experiences, if only to help you remember. As that time becomes more remote, it can become more difficult to access. Perhaps writing about the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of Japanese media studies can help me—and maybe others—connect to that time at some future date.

The remoteness is not only temporal. It was probably appropriate that I experienced the novel coronavirus’s affect on the Japanese film and TV industries remotely in space. Still teaching at Yale, I could only read about the closings of theaters and the cessation of filming through news articles and postings on social media. There were ways of watching Japanese television, so I could see how certain shows were changing production, but initially that was not the case with cinema.

Theater closings occurred much sooner in Connecticut than in Japan, with the governor issuing the order on 16 March 2020. There was thus a strange disconnect between what I was experiencing and what friends in Japan were writing about. Everything was closing down here, while Japanese colleagues were arguing that the ventilation in theaters was fine and patrons were safe with just masks and hand-sanitizer. It reminded me of the cultural valences of disease, as few tried to defend movie theater ventilation in the States—and few in the West advocated for face masks. Still, fears about the virus were already affecting movie attendance everywhere.

Obayashi Nobuhiko, a Movie Man

The film director Obayashi Nobuhiko passed away on April 10, succumbing to the cancer he had been battling for several years. He was 82.

Here is a photo I love of him with my son Ian.

ObayashiIan

Obayashi-kantoku was a guest at Yale in the fall of 2015, coming with his wife and producer Kyoko and his daughter Chigumi. They even came to our home for dinner, so the news hits me not just as a loss for cinema, but as a personal loss as well. It is in part because of such a relationship that I know we lost not just a great film director, but also a great human being.

Obayashi-kantoku was an important part of my education as a viewer of Japanese film. Like many who hit their teens in the 1970s, when Japanese cinema was supposedly in decline and rarely presented abroad, I grew up first watching the classics, from Kurosawa to Ozu to Oshima (with luckily a lot of Daiei jidaigeki thanks to the Thalia in NYC). The exceptions were the rare new films such as The Family Game (which I wrote about here) and Tampopo that earned US releases in the eighties. When I was in Iowa, probably in 1988 or 1989, I finally got to see a series of contemporary Japanese films new to the USA that was touring the country. Included was Obayashi’s I Are You, You Am Me (Tenkosei, 1982), a gender-bending film with an affectionate concern for amateur moviemaking that stuck with me. When I went to Japan in 1992 (and stayed there for about eleven years), one of the things I caught in the first year was a series of the best films of the previous year at the Bungeiza in Ikebukuro. There I saw The Rocking Horsemen (Seishun dendekedekedeke, 1992), which remains one of my favorite Obayashi films. Obayashi-kantoku, in a sense, was a core part of my introduction to contemporary Japanese cinema.

Japanese Film Materials in the Time of Quarantine

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Yale has moved all its classes online and the governor of Connecticut has asked residents to stay at home if at all possible. The Yale libraries are closed and even I cannot use my office anymore. I want to get out, just like my house-bound cat Hanzo (pictured). But we all need to stay safe.

This has also created problems for my Japanese film historiography course this term. The final assignment was centered on students engaging with primary archival materials, which are now out of reach. At the same time, I have heard of a number of colleagues at other institutions asking how they can continue teaching a Japanese film course when there is limited access to materials. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a library that offers journals, e-books, and even streaming services like Kanopy and Alexander Street, accessible off-site through VPN, there is still much you can do at home. Some libraries will have digital subscriptions to Japanese newspapers and magazines, and you can always get a subscription to the Criterion Channel, Netflix, or Hulu (Mubi, which has a few Japanese films viewable this month, is promoting a “3-months-for-$1” sale). But if you are not so fortunate—or are seeking film-related print materials in Japanese—you’re going to have a harder time.

Japanese Film Studies on the Yale Repository

Over the years, I have been trying to make available my research to those who need it through various means. 

One is simply this site, which I started not just to opine about this or that subject, but to introduce my research and direct people to where to find it. So the sections on Internet Articles and Interviews feature links to many my pieces that are online.

I also have been making some of what I have written available online in PDF format. I initially started doing that on Academia.edu (here is my page), but not only is that site clunky and hard to use, it is also a for-profit corporation, and I don’t see why I should enable a corporation to make money using my research as one of the products they “sell.” Yes, they “give” me “exposure,” but that can seem not too far from those companies that ask young artists to contribute their work for free in exchange for getting “exposure."

So increasingly I have been using the Yale repository to make my research available. Here is my page there. And here are a few items I posted recently:

Abayo Joe! Shishido Jo: the Movie Star

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The great actor Shishido Jo has died. When I was in grad school, he was virtually unknown abroad, but that was because the films of Suzuki Seijun and Nikkatsu Action were largely ignored in foreign festivals and markets since such supposedly crass popular cinema was not what the gatekeepers liked. When Seijun finally came to be celebrated abroad, Jo started garnering attention, but it is was not because he was an art cinema actor in the line of Nakadai Tatsuya, or a popular film star like Ishihara Yujiro (who is still not well-known among foreign fans of Japanese cinema). He was a unique character who transcended those cinematic categories. In that way, he somewhat resembled the nonconformist Seijun during his Nikkatsu days, but Jo’s character was his own and was visible in many non-Seijun films. 

Jo was cool. He was cool even when he played the bad guy, which is why his villains were never just bad, but often shared much with the cool hero, especially a certain professionalism. In Plains Wanderer (The Rambler Rides Again, 1960), he does some pretty awful stuff, but you can’t hate him, even before the series narrative demands he team up with the hero at the end. That complexity made it possible for him to be both comedic and tragic, sometimes with a touch of insanity that Seijun brought out well in Branded to Kill (1967). It was rarely realistic, as it was an often self-conscious complexity, with Jo sometimes playfully (Hayauchi yaro, etc.) or sometimes contemplatively (A Colt Is My Passport) performing the possibilities of the character “Joe the Ace.” He was a serious actor, famously even going so far as to implant silicone into his cheeks to better play the part of a baseball catcher, but that seriousness could sometimes mysteriously blend with self-parody. Jo was one of a kind.

Speculating on Murakami Haruki and Cinema

MurakamiHarukiHyosho

It was an honor to be invited to participate in the "Colloque international 'Haruki Murakami au présent et au futur’” back in March 2018, which took place in Strasbourg and Paris. Not only was the conference quite stimulating for someone who is not a Murakami specialist, it was a wonderful opportunity to encounter some new colleagues in the study of modern Japanese literature. It was, in some ways for me, an encore to the quite productive experience of participating in the French symposium on Kawabata Yasunari in September 2014 (from which I ended up publishing articles in Japanese and English). It was also inspiring to see many of the participants engage with Murakami in a deep and often critical manner. This is not a gathering of Murakami fans. 

It is thus a great pleasure to see that many (though not all) of the papers at the Murakami colloquium have now been published in Japanese as Bunka hyosho toshite no Murakami Haruki (文化表象としての村上春樹 / Murakami Haruki as Cultural Representation) and includes a contribution by yours truly.

Continuing to Theorize the Theory Complex in Japanese Film Studies

スクリーンショット 2019-12-13 午前0.12.47

As part of my long continuing project to study, appreciate, and disseminate the history of Japanese film theory, I recently penned an opinion piece for the Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema at the request of Michael Raine, one of the editors. The result is a kind of sequel to the introduction to the special issue of the Review of Japanese Culture and Society that I edited on Japanese film theory, a piece entitled “Introduction: The Theory Complex” (now on the Yale repository). I want to thank Michael for the opportunity to revisit these issues.

About nine years have passed since that introduction, so this was a chance to consider the recent surge in research on Japanese theory, in both its positive and negative aspects. Here is the abstract for the opinion piece:

The recent surge in studies of Japanese film theory can be seen as an aspect of efforts to counter Eurocentrism in film studies and the aversion to theory in Japan studies. It could also help scholars think through the problem of utilizing theory in East Asian studies. Yet even if knowing the film theory of an era can help us understand the context of the films of that era, it should not simply serve as a sort of local informant for the foreign theorist. Just as there are problems in only rooting Japanese film theory in an age-old traditional aesthetics, there are issues in valuing that theory only to the degree it resembles Euro-American theory. That can lead to forms of theoretical ventriloquism or projected translations that only reinforce the geopolitics of theory centered in Europe. This can be a particular problem with Japanese film theory because it was caught between Japan’s imperial aspirations and Japan being subject to Euro-American neo-colonial influences. This “theory complex” can teach us much about the geopolitics of theory. Exploring Japanese film theory as a “minor film theory” may eventually even help “provincialize theory.”

In the same issue, there is another opinion piece by Daisuke Miyao on conceiving the transnational in Japanese cinema studies, a special section of articles on refugees, mothers, and children in Korean film, and (speaking of theory!) a translation of a 1941 article by Im Hwa (about whom I’ve written in an upcoming article).

Supporting the Kawasaki City Museum and Its Archive

Kawasaki City Museum

There was much loss of life and property when Typhoon Hagibis hit the Kanto region of Japan in mid-October 2019, but one piece of news that greatly affected me personally was the report that the vaults storing the valuable collections of the Kawasaki City Museum had been flooded in the storm. The Museum collection features not only archaeological artifacts from the region, but given the Museum’s long-standing commitment to preserving, studying, and displaying modern popular culture, one of the country’s best collections of film and manga. The Museum, which has had such film scholars as Makino Mamoru and Okumura Masaru on its curatorial staff, has a significant film collection. As we described in our Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies (and its Japanese update and translation), it is particularly strong in documentary, news films, video art, and TV commercials, and features the personal collections of Kumashiro Tatsumi, Jissoji Akio, and Kimura Takeo, among others. It would be a tremendous blow to Japanese film history if any of these materials were lost. 

Eiga Kagaku Kenkyu and Film Studies in Japan

EigaKagakuKenkyu

When it comes to old magazines, Japan is still a reprint (fukkokuban) culture. The North American libraries I used from grad school mostly had microfilms or microfiches of old journals, but Japan didn’t really get on the microfilm bandwagon, at least in a broad, commercial fashion. Old periodicals were made available to lots of institutions by reprinting them. With some reprints even reproducing the original colors, they were far better to look at than microfilms but they tended to be quite expensive. Still, it was thanks to such reprints that more libraries now have copies of prewar film magazines such as Kinema junpo, Kinema Record, Kokusai eiga shinbun, or Nihon eiga. The only reprints I had been involved in before were reprints of old film books, such as the Nihon eigaron gensetsu taikei series (Yumani Shobo), for which I contributed commentaries on Gonda Yasunosuke or the Film Law. 

Whenever I go to the annual Association for Asian Studies conference, I make a point of visiting the publishers’ booths, in part to find out what reprints have been recently published. Most of the reps of the Japanese publishers know me, so in our conversations, I am occasionally asked what should be reprinted next. Given my current research on Japanese film theory, I often suggest some of the prewar film theory or film studies journals. 

Aoyama Shinji’s “Nouvelle Vague Manifesto” Revisited

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I am back at Yale after a summer in Japan, and one of the pleasant surprises awaiting me when I returned was a copy of issue 6 of the magazine Nang. Nang is a magazine focused on Asian cinema that is only available on paper in expertly designed printed editions. Published twice a year by editor-in-chief Davide Cazzaro, it will continue for a total of ten issues, with each issue focused on a theme and supervised by a guest editor. Issue 6 was dedicated to the subject of “Manifestos” and was guest edited by Darcy Paquet.

I contributed to the issue through the republication of my English translation of Aoyama Shinji’s 1997 “Nouvelle Vague Manifesto; Or, How I Became a Disciple of Philippe Garrel.” I had previously published that online in Adrian Martin’s journal Lola, where you can still read it here. I had supplied an introduction to that manifesto (seen here), one that worked a lot off of my essay on Aoyama in Yvonne Tasker’s Fifty Contemporary Film Directors (I have posted that on the Yale repository here). For Nang, Darcy was hoping that several of the persons involved could revisit the manifesto from today’s perspective, but Aoyama-san was just too busy to write something, and I felt someone else should offer a more novel view. So I just provided a new one-page introduction, and my former student Ryan Cook of Emory wrote up a quite interesting analysis that reconsiders Aoyama’s relation to Hasumi Shigehiko. 

Movie Tourism: The Tora-san Museum and the Yamada Yoji Museum in Shibamata

There is much discussion these days about anime tourism such as seichi junrei, in which fans visit the locations of their favorite anime, especially when those anime took the pains to locate scenes and events in actually existing spaces. 

ToraSakura

Tourism based on moving images is nothing new, however. Postwar film series such as Nikkatsu’s Rambler (Wataridori) series or Shochiku’s Tora-san (Otoko wa tsurai yo) series featured roving heroes in part so that each film would be set in a different place and spark tourism to that location. The Taiga Drama series on NHK is famous for generating tourism to the locations the actual history depicted in the drama took place.

In going to the Tora-san Museum the other day, right after visiting the Ichikawa Kon Memorial Room, I could see a facility that attempts to generate tourism about a film series that itself attempted to generate tourism. In this case, the entire area around the museum has become part of tourist double mirror.

The Tora-san series, largely created and directed by Yamada Yoji, features the itinerant peddler Kuruma Torajiro. Forty-eight films were made in the series while the actor Atsumi Kiyoshi, who plays Tora-san, was still alive, making it one of the most successful film series in Japan, if not the world. In every film, he has to return home once or twice, and that home is in Shibamata, Katsushika-Ku, Tokyo. And that, naturally, is where the Museum is located.

Conversations in Silence 6: Kinugasa Teinosuke’s Crossroads (Jujiro)

CrossroadsJujiro

We had a good turnout in June for the fifth edition of Conversations in Silence at Haremame, where we showed the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Kataoka Ichiro was decked out in his frock coat (which he only wears for Caligari), and Kikuchi Naruyoshi set the mood using mostly German music from Stockhausen to body music. The talk afterwards was great, especially as Kikuchi-san talked at length about the difficulties of adding music to Japanese vs. European films.

The next film in the series might be a test of Kikuchi-san’s skills, since we will be showing Kinugasa Teinosuke’s experimental jidaigeki Crossroads (Jujiro) from 1928. We showed Kinugasa’s Page of Madness (about which I have written a book) for the first edition of the series, and Crossroads was the director’s attempt at experimentation subsequent to that, after having returned to mainstream filmmaking for a few years. It is quite unusual compared to the jidaigeki of the time, both for its noirish lighting and tale of love and blindness, but also for the fact it was one of the first period films not to have a sword fight, which was a defining feature of jidaigeki. A master director of jidaigeki, Kinugasa was bending genre rules and aiming for something else. I wonder how Kikuchi-san will interpret this film that is neither European nor clearly fitting the rules of a Japanese jidaigeki.

Ichikawa Kon Memorial Room

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Having published on Ichikawa Kon before (see my article here), I’ve been meaning to do it for some time, but I finally made the trek to visit the Ichikawa Kon Memorial Room (市川崑記念室). It is a small museum in Shibuya dedicated to the illustrious filmmaker Ichikawa Kon and his scriptwriter wife, Wada Natto

The museum itself is in Nanpeidaicho about a fifteen minute walk from Shibuya Station. It is located where Ichikawa and Wada had their house. The house was torn down and an apartment building built on the site in 2015. The first floor is where the Memorial Room is located.

It is not that large. The walls in the entrance hall are full of introductions to all of Ichikawa’s feature films. The main room is devoted to exhibits (see the photo below). On the walls are exhibits featuring some of his major films: Harp of BurmaEnjo, Her Brother, Ten Dark Women, Tokyo Olympiad, and The Makioka Sisters. They feature copies of the scripts, storyboards, press materials, and other items. Ichikawa was a very diligent and meticulous man, and he made colored charts for the productions of his films that are also on display. He was one of the first Japanese feature film directors to emerge from the world of animation, so his storyboards are quite delightful. Some of his last efforts at animation—cut out animation—are also on view, as are some materials from his TV work and a number of his awards. There are also his personal 35mm camera and Steenbeck editing table.

Conversations in Silence 5: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

As you might remember, last year I did a series of silent film events at Haremame, the event space in Daikanyama, in conjunction with the benshi Kataoka Ichiro and the musician Kikuchi Naruyoshi. We called the series “Conversations in Silence,” and I mainly participated by introducing the film and leading the after-film discussion. The first one (which I wrote about here) featured Page of Madness, and the second one centered on Fukujuso (written about here). We three also did an event on Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, after which I returned to the States. While I was gone, Kataoka-san and Kikuchi-san did a fourth Conversations in Silence on Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, with Iwamoto Kenji, my coeditor on the Nihon sense eiga ronshu

Well, I’m back in Japan and I wanted to let you know that we will do the fifth edition of Conversations in Silence next week, on Monday June 17, 2019. We will be showing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (using a DVD of a restored version). The three amigos have reunited, with Karaoke performing the benshi, Kikuchi deejaying music, and little ol' me hanging around to provide commentary. The film was quite influential worldwide, particular in Japan, providing one inspiration for A Page of Madness (as I discussed in my book on the film). Tokugawa Musei's narration of Caligari was quite famous, and Kyoko Omori at Hamilton has made available online a portion of a recording of Musei’s benshi narration, taken during a special revival some fourty years later (you can check it out here). So I am dying to see how Kataoka-san does it, and given how Kikuchi-san handled Page of Madness last year, this promises to be another very creative mix of music. 

Alexander Sokurov, The Sun, and Representing the Japanese Emperor

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A year and a half ago, on the occasion of the Nichigei Film Festival which as focused on the representation of the Japanese emperor in film (see my writeup here), I talked a bit on this blog about the difficulty of representing the Japanese emperor on film. This did not mean the emperor was never represented, but even a 1957 feature film like The Solitary One, which I discussed in the writeup, only showed the Crown Prince (later the Heisei Emperor) metonymically though his voice or hands. The emperor became a cinematic problem, posing questions as to how the gaze at the emperor (by characters, by the camera) can be constructed, and, in some cases, how the emperor himself can gaze. Can the emperor, for instance, be made the subject of a point of view shot, which essentially inserts the spectator’s gaze in his, and if so, how?

I had the opportunity to consider this when Alexander Sokurov made the film The Sun (Solntse, 2005) about Hirohito in the last days of WWII, with Issey Ogata playing the emperor. The right wing made threats against the film, but it ended up screening successfully in Japan. An “official book” was produced, and I was asked to contribute an essay. I introduced one of our Yale students at the time, Jeremi Szaniawski, who also contributed a piece (he later published his dissertation on Sokurov as The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov). Since the volume was in Japanese, I tried to save myself some time by writing the article in English and having another Yale student, Naoki Yamamoto, translate it. (It’s unfortunately another one of my Japanese articles I never got around to publishing in English, a few of which I have begun uploading on to the Yale repository, with English versions when available, such as my 1994 article on Suzuki Seijun’s firing from Nikkatsu and my best 30 Japanese films of 1989–1997.)

Of Sea and Soil: The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke

スクリーンショット 2019-04-22 午後8.02.06

As I mentioned in my last post, I went to Ghent in Belgium at the beginning of April to participate in the Courtisane Festival 2019. The Festival was holding a mini-retrospective of the documentaries of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and I was invited to give a talk, entitled “Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Minamata, and Japanese Documentary," and introduce a couple of his films. It was a wonderful festival—small but focused—and I was thrilled to see that most of the Tsuchimoto films were practically sold out. It was also a pleasure to see Paolo Rocha’s A Ilha de Moraes (1984), an intriguing documentary by the Portuguese director about the Portuguese writer and diplomat Wenceslau de Moraes, who ended up living the last portion of his life in Japan. 

Courtisane also produced a catalog of the Tsuchimoto retrospective, in collaboration with Cinematek in Brussels, which did an Ogawa Shinsuke retro. I contributed an essay to Of Sea and Soil: The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke entitled “Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Environment in Documentary Film,” which attempts to consider how Tsuchimoto’s environmentalism is based not simply in his film content but also his film form. 

Tsuchimoto Noriaki at Courtisane

Courtisane

Just a quick note, but I will be traveling to Ghent in Belgium this week to participate in Courtisane Festival 2019. This year’s film festival will feature the sidebar “Artist in Focus: Tsuchimoto Noriaki” and I have been invited to give a talk on Tsuchimoto and the background to his films. The Festival will show seven of Tsuchimoto’s works:

  • An Engineer’s Assistant
  • On the Road
  • Exchange Student Chua Swee-Lin
  • Prehistory of the Partisans
  • Minamata: The Victims and Their World
  • The Shiranui Sea
  • Umitori—The Stolen Sea at the Shimokita Peninsula 

My talk will be on Saturday, April 6, at 15:00 in the Paddenhoek. The page on the retrospective is here

In addition to talking about Tsuchimoto, Minamata, Iwanami, and his approach to documentary, using several clips from his films, I will introduce the Tsuchimoto Collection, his personal papers that have been donated to Yale. Not just their contents, but the Collection itself I think speaks to important aspects of his character and approach to cinema. 

If you are in Belgium, come and say hello. If not, stay tuned for future announcements about Tsuchimoto related events and developments.

UPDATE: I posted about the catalog for the Tsuchimoto and Ogawa Shinsuke retros being made available on line. Check it out here.

Best 30 Japanese Films…of 1989–1997

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I’ve been uploading some of my old articles to the Yale repository, but most have been the ones in English. This time I decided to upload a rather unique piece I did in 1997.

As some of you know, I picked the best ten Japanese films of the year for the annual Eiga geijutsu poll for a number of years. But my first experience in producing a “best” list for publication was a few years before that in 1997, when the Japanese intellectual journal Yuriika (Eureka) asked me to produce a list for a special issue devoted to the theme "Japanese Cinema: From Kitano Takeshi On." I was asked to write an article selecting the thirty best Japanese films made since Kitano Takeshi debuted as a director in 1989. The time span and the number of films was the editor’s choice, but the project intrigued me as an assertion not only that a period of cinema began in 1989, but also that the period was significantly defined by Kitano. I of course cited that in my book on him.

I was also intrigued by the possibility of selecting what is “the best.” Yes, there was a tiny bit of excitement over participating in the process of canon formation (though frankly I don’t think anyone has ever cited this list as a canon former), but I was more enthusiastic about being able to support some excellent films, including a few virtually unknown works. More importantly, this was an opportunity for a precocious young scholar to interrogate the concept of the “best” list itself. In the end, I selected films that themselves questioned the categories assumed by the list itself, particularly the notions of “Japan” and “cinema.” 

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