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A Retrospective on Japanese Retrospectives

It's been about half a year since the Tokyo FILMeX took place, but my article on their 2009 retro, "Nippon Modern," is finally out in the most recent edition of Undercurrent, the online journal of FIPRESCI, the international film critics organization. I'd like to thank the editor, Chris Fujiwara (author of the very tempting new book on Jerry Lewis), for inviting me to write. 

In the piece, entitled "A Retrospective on Japanese Retrospectives," I use the retro - and its unfortunate lack of a published catalog - to discuss the problem of "film thinking" in Japan, particularly the way the long and rich history of "film theory" in Japan has tended to be forgotten. I particularly focus on the work of Sato Tadao, a stimulating and complex thinker who is one of the few to really try to remember this history, but in ways that, somewhat symptomatic of the whole situation, do not always support the project of film theory itself. These are problems that I believe are endemic to the way Japanese cinema has been defined in Japan. The article contains some of the thinking that forms the undercurrent (forgive the pun) of my current book project, a history of Japanese film theory.

Touring Japan, and Finding Cinemas in Unusual Places

My excuse for the long break between posts is that I was on a tour of Japan. I wish it was to promote my new book, Visions of Japanese Modernity, but authors of obscure academic texts do not get book tours. Rather, I was serving as a study leader on a tour of Japan organized by a division of the Association of Yale Alumni called Yale Educational Travel. They basically organize tours all around the world that are led by Yale professors, who give lectures along the way. They can be a great way to do more than just sightsee, and they help keep alumni in touch with the university's educational mission and remind them about their alma mater (it does not take a genius to figure out why many major universities organize such things). 

This was the second time I have done this tour. It basically involved doing a circular trip around Japan, mostly on a cruise ship called the Clipper Odyssey, starting in Tokyo, moving to Sado Island, Kanazawa, Matsue, Hagi (and then a brief trip to Korea to clear Japanese carriage law), Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kurashiki, and then ending in Kyoto. To fill the ship, other institutions such as Princeton, Stanford and the Smithsonian also participated, and so I shared lecture duties with such fine people as David Leheny, Mark Peattie, and Marjorie Williams. I talked about the historical geography of play in Tokyo, representations of the atomic bomb in popular culture, and the Kyoto's centrality to Japanese film culture. 

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