News and Opinion
For a project I am working on, I visited the Shochiku Otani Library for the first time since it moved into the new building. It used to be located in the old Shochiku headquarters, which were even further down Harumi-dori from the Kabuki-za and the Shine Patosu. Shochiku, suffering through hard times at the end of the nineties, sold the land to the ad company ADK, which redeveloped it and now Shochiku rents some space in the new building for the Otani Library. The Shochiku headquarters are now across the street above the Togeki Theater. You can see the front of the ADK Shochiku Square building with a sign for the Library in the photo below.
The Library is focused primarily on theater and film (remember, Shochiku, the studio that gave us Ozu, Kinoshita, and Tora-san, is also a theatrical company, owning the Kabuki-za and a number of other kabuki and legit theaters). The main reason to go there is to view the scripts for theatrical and film productions, especially those of Shochiku. In some cases, they have not only several generations of the script of a single film, but also the press book, theater programs, stills and the poster. This is the place to come if you are studying a Shochiku film (though they have materials on other studio films as well).
John Junkerman reported on KineJapan that the great documentary filmmaker, Tsuchimoto Noriaki, has passed away. A search of the news serviced confirms the bad news. He died today (June 24) of lung cancer. He was 79.
Matsumoto Toshio had mentioned to me at the JASIAS meeting that Tsuchimoto-san was not doing well. I was very sad to see this was true.
Along with Ogawa Shinsuke (the subject of Markus Nornes's great Forest of Pressure), Tsuchimoto was the most important postwar Japanese documentarist, famous for his films covering the mercury poisoning incident in Minamata like Minamata: The Victims and their World (1971). He produced many other great works such as PR films like Document: On the Road (1964) or An Engineer's Assistant (1963) and the radical documentary Pre-Partisan (1969). His filmmaking was quite partisan, as he would take the side of the victims in the Minamata incident, quite powerfully, for instance, filming them as they press their case at the Chisso stock holder's meeting at the end of the first documentary. But he also kept his camera back, letting the subjects tell their story as Tsuchimoto, sometimes on screen, sat beside them listening. He even showed them edited versions to ask for their impressions and suggestions.
The wideshows this morning were showing Kitano Takeshi at the Moscow Film Festival, where he is receiving a lifetime achievement award. He was joking that usually "jiji" ("grandpas") win such awards at the end of their careers. He certainly deserves it, but it reminded me of the problem I faced when writing my book on him: ideally, this is something to write when his career is over, but since I completed my manuscript, he has released one film and is about to release another. The book's not selling enough--and his most recent films have not been successful enough--that I think I'd be asked to write a second edition. Probably my career with him is over, but I hope his continues.
The Moscow Film Festival, by the way, seems to have changed. It used to be the place where the old left filmmakers in Japan used to show their independent works and win awards: Shindo Kaneto won a ton of awards there, and other social realists like Yamamoto Satsuo, Kumai Kei, and Oguri Kohei were often featured. Now everyone looked so glitzy on TV.
Meiji Gakuin University, which has one of the better film studies programs in Japan, will be holding its annual film symposium this Saturday (June 21) at the Shirogane Campus in Tokyo. This year's topic will be "Women's Action in Japanese Cinema," with papers on such topics as Misora Hibari (who often dressed as a man in her films), Oryu (Fuji Junko's character from the Hibotan Bakuto yakuza series), Yasuda Michiyo (now Okusu Michiyo), Shihomi Etsuko, pinky violence, etc. It starts at 10 am in Room 2301. Here is the announcement in Japanese.
The Meigaku symposium has been a feature in the Tokyo film studies scene for over a decade, and several of the symposia have resulted in books. The first book, for instance, was on Mizoguchi (I have a piece in that), and others have been on Ri Koran, Yoshida Kiju, Yamaguchi Momoe, etc. I'm still hoping they put out a book from the Nikkatsu Action symposium: it was a lot of fun doing a talk on stage with Shishido Jo!
I will be taking my students in the Yale Summer Session class to the Toho Studios, so I went there today to discuss the visit with the studio officials. They were quite open, friendly, and cooperative, so I really look forward to the tour. I got a mini-version today, seeing both the oldest stages (the first stages from 1932 when the studio was started as PCL--you can see an old aerial photo here, at the bottom of the page) and the newest ones. As with the Yachiyo-kan, it was nice to see old film buildings still surviving--they really smelled of history!--but the story is that the old stages--now Stages 1 and 2--are probably not long for this world.
I arrived early and walked around the studio a bit. It is located in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, about a 10 minute walk from Seijo Gakuenmae Station. Next to the studio proper is the Toho Nichiyo Daiku Center (literally: the Toho Sunday Carpenter's Center), which is basically a big hardware store. It reminds you how the studios branched off into different businesses when the movie biz was not going well (apparently there was a bowling alley located there before--another business many film companies tried). The Sengawa River runs through the studio, lined with cherry trees which are quite a sight in the spring. They also have placards on the railings, like the one below. The Sengawa was the river that ran by the village in The Seven Samurai.
Since I will be taking the students in my Summer Session course to see Kabuki, I traveled to the Ginza yesterday to buy tickets. I decided to take a shot of one of the more peculiar movie theaters in Tokyo--at least location-wise--the Ginza Shine Patosu (Cine Pathos). It is just down the street from the Kabuki-za, but it is literally under that street. It used to be a rep house, but is now a three-screen theater that shows an odd mix of the commercial and the artistic. Sokurov's The Sun opened here (I have a piece on that film in the official book), and this is where I saw Matsumoto Hitoshi's Dai Nihonjin. The first film may fit this underground space, given how much of it takes place in an air raid bunker, but the second is rather insistent upon rising above the ground, even if in somewhat parodic a manner.
Below is the photo I took. To the left is Harumi-dori (the Kabuki-za is a couple hundred meters further on). To the right is the entrance to a tunnel that goes under the road and comes out the other side. In that tunnel is the theater plus a couple of eating establishments. You can check out another introduction to this theater on the Cinema Street site.
I arrived in Japan last week for the summer. As usual, I will be doing research on my various current topics (contemporary Japanese film, Japanese film theory, etc.), but I will also be teaching a course on Japanese cinema for the Summer Session at Yale. The class will be held at the University of Tokyo.
Upon arriving, I pretty much immediately headed off to Kyoto for the annual conference of the Japan Society of Image Arts and Sciences (Nihon Eizo Gakkai), the main academic society doing film studies in Japan. This year's event was hosted by Kyoto Seika University. It was like every other JASIAS meeting: a number of misses, but some good papers by young scholars.
Since Kyoto was the "Hollywood of the East," hosting many of the film studios that made the great jidaigeki movies, I always check out something film related whenever I visit. Because my hotel was on Kawaramachi, I went out back to Shinkyogoku, which was the old movie theater district, to search out ancient theaters. I noticed that the Yachiyo-kan, an Art Deco theater from the 1920s, has been renovated into a used-clothing store. Given how insistent much of Japan is on destroying its cinematic architectural history, it was at least nice to see the building is not completely gone. Here's a site in Japanese that introduces it during its last years as a pink film theater.