News and Opinion

Catching Up: Japanese Film and Television

In trying to start up this blog after a long respite, I noticed that there are a number of my publications I have not announced.

One is the chapter I wrote for the Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society, edited by Ted and Vicki Bestor and Akiko Yamagata, entitled "Japanese Film and Television." While I have written on television before (such as my article on telop in variety TV), it was a challenge to combine histories of the two media in a single, 13-page essay. The article is weighted towards the medium with the longer history (cinema), but I attempt to offer a concise history of both, making them overlap on the issue of media, considering how media have not just represented modern Japanese culture and society, but also shaped and construct it. Crucial in this are the debates and efforts to articulate "how meaning was to operate in an age of mass cultural production and consumption."

The book itself is a treasure trove of information on Japanese politics, history, society and culture with chapter by top scholars such as Peter Duus, Dave Leheny, Merry White, Susan Napierr, Ian Condry, Bill Kelly (my colleague at Yale), Koichi Iwabuchi, and Ted Bestor. A paperback edition should be appearing soon.

Iwasa Hisaya and Olo: The Boy from Tibet

The important documentary and experimental filmmaker, Iwasa Hisaya, died on 4 May 2013. He was attending a screening of his most recent film, Olo: The Boy from Tibet, in Miyagi when he fell down the stairs of the inn and struck his head. He was 78.

Iwasa was one of a number of crucial postwar Japanese filmmakers who emerged from Iwanami Productions, a studio run by the Iwanami publishing house that mostly made educational and PR films. While producing films for an emerging Japan Inc., filmmakers like Iwasa, Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Ogawa Shinsuke, and Kuroki Kazuo were hotly debating, in an informal group they called the Ao no kai, or “Blue Group,”  what not just documentary but also cinema was. Ogawa and Tsuchimoto went on to become the two pillars of postwar documentary while others like Kuroki and Higashi Yoichi became important fiction filmmakers. Iwasa was different, however, going independent like the others but treading a fine line between experimental and documentary film with works like Spring-Powered Cinema: Am I an Actress? (Nejishiki: Watashi wa joyu?, 1968).

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