News and Opinion

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.

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