News and Opinion

A Page of Madness Is Out!

It seemed to take forever, but my book on Kinugasa Teinosuke's silent masterpiece, A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji) is finally out. I started working on it over a decade ago but was stuck with a publisher that in the end was unable to publish the book. It took a long time for it to become clear that the publisher was for all intents and purposes defunct, but in the meantime, I was able to finally access crucial internal documents about the film's production in the National Film Center, including the shooting notes and the actual script used on the set (which is not the script printed in Kawabata Yasunari's complete works), and rewrote the book for another publisher. Mine is the first publication to extensively use these rare documents. I added translations of contemporary reviews and also of shooting notes for scenes likely contained in the original film that have been cut for some reason in the intervening years and are not visible in the current print. In the end, maybe I was fortunate to suffer that delay: the book is better as a result. 

East Asia in Motion: Literature, Cinema, Dance

We're holding a big symposium here at Yale next weekend featuring especially the independent filmmaker Kanai Katsu, who is coming to the USA for the first time, Here's the announcement:

East Asia in Motion: Literature, Cinema, Dance

A symposium sponsored by the Council on East Asian Studies, the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, and the Whitney Humanities Center.

Yale University

Whitney Humanities Center Auditorium, 53 Wall Street

February 27 to March 1, 2009

Featuring presentations by artists Kanai Katsu and Shen Wei

This symposium seeks to extend the breadth of current scholarship on East Asia by focusing on literary, cinematic, and choreographic manifestations of movement. Oriented around the multivalent theme of “movement,” participants practicing a range of analytical and creative methodologies will collaboratively interrogate the limits of “East Asia” as presently configured while simultaneously exploring new avenues for engaged scholarly inquiry. By putting pressure on the multiple ways in which the cinematic, literary, choreographic, and political overlap and interpenetrate through the figure of movement, we hope to remain critically mindful of the extent to which any discursive motion, “East Asian” or otherwise, is always contoured and compelled by a range of ideological forces. Presentations will gesture beyond the staid borders of the “national” and outstrip the confines of singular academic disciplines. This will be done in the hope that the symposium’s theme of “movement” might provide a provisional pivot point in response to which participants can venture individual contributions to a dynamic, rigorous communal conversation about the ways in which East Asia moves and means in a planetary context.
The symposium will move beyond the borders of a normal academic conference by featuring the transnational work of two artists: the independent, avant-garde filmmaker Kanai Katsu, showing his work in North America for the first time; and the Chinese choreographer and dancer Shen Wei, who helped choreograph the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Papers for the two Saturday panels will be made available for participants beforehand so as to concentrate on discussion.

Please sign-up for this event by February 23 via email to


Friday, February 27, 2009

6:00 PM    Welcome Reception
Room 108, Whitney Humanities Center

7:00 PM  Independent Movement: The Cinema of Kanai Katsu
                 The Desert Archipelago (Mujin rett?, 1969), 35mm, 55 min.
                  Good-Bye (1971), 16mm, 52 min.
Coming at the tail end of the 1960s New Wave, Kanai Katsu became a pioneer of truly independent filmmaking that traversed Japan and Korea to surrealistically engage with issues of politics and identity. The Desert Archipelago won the Grand Prix at the Nyon International Film Festival.
9:00 PM    Roundtable discussion on Kanai Katsu
                  Kanai Katsu – Japanese Filmmaker and Director
                   Markus Nornes – University of Michigan
                   Naoki Yamamoto – Ph.D student, Yale University
                   Seung-hoon Jeong – Ph.D student, Yale University
                   Aaron Gerow – Yale University
Saturday, February 28, 2009

10:00 AM   Panel One: Moving Images of Empire
                   Michael Bourdaughs – University of Chicago
                    Jonathan Hall – University of California, Irvine
                    Yingjing Zhang – University of California, San Diego
2:00 PM    Panel Two: Becoming Animal: Zones of Exchange and the Post-   Human Organism
                  Victor Fan – Ph.D student, Yale University
                   Christine Marran, University of Minnesota
                   Christine Yano, University of Hawaii
7:00 PM    Lecture-Demonstration by Shen Wei
Choreographer, director, dancer, painter and designer, Shen Wei is widely recognized for his defining vision of an intercultural, interdisciplinary, utterly original mode of movement-based performance. Mr. Shen will discuss his artistic vision, past and current projects, and the ways in which his work pushes the boundaries of what it means to "move" as a dancer in a transnational context.
8:30 PM   Roundtable discussion on Shen Wei
                  Shen Wei – founder and director of Shen Wei Dance Arts  
                   Paize Keulemans – Yale University
                   Reggie Jackson – Yale University
                   Karen Shimakawa – New York University
Sunday, March 1, 2009

10:00 AM   Concluding Roundtable:  Moving Forward: Further Questions and Trajectories
                   Shu-mei Shih – University of California, Los Angeles
                    Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto – New York University

Movies: The Ultimate Insider's Guide

I was quite surprised to receive my copy of Movies: The Ultimate Insider's Guide in the mail the other day. This is a cute book of short film reviews by an amazing variety of people covering movies from around the world. I contributed a piece on Kumashiro Tatsumi's World of Geisha (Yojohan fusuma no urabari, 1973).  It was put out by the City Secrets people, who do travel guides, and is probably the only time I'll ever be a "fellow author" with the likes of Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Anjelica Huston, Barbara Kopple, Sydney Lumet, and Martin Scorsese. Japanese film is well represented numerically, even though the choice of films is eclectic (Ozu Yasujiro's Tokyo Story, Hamano Sachi's Lily Festival, Itami Juzo's Tampopo, Kaneko Shusuke's Gamera 3, Kitano Takeshi's Fireworks, Kobayashi Masaki's Kwaidan, Kurosawa Akira's Stray Dog, Miyazaki Hayao's Nausicaa, Oshima Nagisa's In the Realm of the Senses, and Ichikawa Kon's An Actor's Revenge). People wrote on what they wanted to write on, so it is like a Lonely Planet for the movies.

Sono Berlin

The news services report that Sono Shion's Ai no mukidashi (Love Exposure) won two awards at the Berlin Film Festival: the FIPRESCI Prize (for the Forum) and the Caligari Film Prize. 

2008 Industry Statistics

Some of you may have seen this elsewhere, but the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren) released their statistics for the film industry for 2008.

The results are great for Japanese film, but not so much for cinema as a whole. Total box office went down 2.8% to 195 billion yen, with attendance declining 2.7% to 160 million. Japanese films clobbered foreign films at the box office 59.5% to 40.5%, again taking the lead after winning in 2006 but losing in 2007. Japanese film has not had this kind of lead since 1970. The box office for Japanese films rose 22.4% from 2007 to 116 billion yen. The total number of films released slightly declined, but the number for Japanese films slightly increased (418 were released in 2008). The average ticket price declined by 2 yen to 1214 yen (what a savings!), while the number of screens continues to increase (to 3359).

15 Japanese films earned more than 20 billion yen at the BO, the same number as 2007 and 2006. Of the top 15 films, 11 were distributed by Toho, with Gake no ue no Ponyo, Hana yori dango Final, Yogisha X no kenshin, Pocket Monsters, and Aibo being the 5 to top 4 billion (all were distributed by Toho except for Aibo). The fact that business as a whole is not consistently growing, that the average BO per screen continues to decline, and that Toho retains its almost monopolistic dominance, continue to be signs for concern. Eiren also noted that sales for DVDs and videos went down about 10%. One wonders if most businesses are really making that much money.

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