News and Opinion

Keiko McDonald

In other sad news, I learned on KineJapan that Keiko McDonald, a scholar of Japanese cinema and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, died of an accident on the 14th. She was a most versatile and prolific researcher and her absence will present a significant loss for the Japanese cinema studies community. I hope her last works, a special issue of Postscript and a book on Shimizu Hiroshi, will have no problem getting published.

Gomeifuku o oinorishimasu.

Ichikawa Jun

News reports related the sad fact that the director Ichikawa Jun suddenly died on the 19th of a brain hemorrhage. He was only 59 and was working on his new film, Buy a Suit, an independent work he had been making with non-professional actors.

Ichikawa was one of a new line of film directors who, like Obayashi Nobuhiko before and Nakashima Tetsuya afterwards, started out making television commercials. (Some can be seen on You Tube here and here.) This was the 1980s, when TV CM's were being celebrated by intellectuals like Yoshimoto Ryumei (Banana's father). Ichikawa debuted as a film director in 1987 with Bu Su. 

He was a much better director than the critics and the festivals who defined his international reputation thought. While I didn't like all of his films (he could reiterate his style too insistently), he was always a skilled director and consistently pursued at least two important aesthetic issues: the cinematic rendering of the city, and the aesthetics of the long take. He was one of the central directors in the rise of long shot, long takes in Japanese independent cinema from the 1990s (after Somai Shinji, of course). I also think he was the best director to adapt Murakami Haruki, and it would have been nice to see him tackle him again. He thus had a peculiar but fascinating mix of the old and nostalgic and the postmodern.

Japan Foundation, National Film Center, Government

The KineJapan list recently finished a very lively discussion on government film policy, focusing especially on the role of the Japan Foundation and the National Film Center in promoting not only Japanese movies, but also research on those movies. There is a general feeling that government film policy is not supporting researchers. While it was a long and involved discussion, I thought I would introduce some of the things I talked about. 

The Japan Foundation, as many know, has been quite instrumental in introducing Japanese film abroad, helping lend out prints from their collection and even publicly showing films in some of their offices. But the JF is not always so open about what they have in their collection, and they are not really set up to help individual researchers who want to watch films. But they are quire helpful if you want to show rent films for public screenings.

Yale has done a series of films through the JF practically every semester since I have come here. We have had a good relation with the NY office, who have been quite cooperative. Since they don't consider the films in their collection "theirs," they will not tell you outright what they have, but if you give them a list, they will tell you if they have it or not. Since I have a long relationship with the JF, I know a lot of what they have already, but the NYC people have helped me when I have searched for other things.

Ozu Yasujiro Retrospective at Yale

Sorry again for the lack of posts. Classes have finally started at Yale, but I have been mostly consumed finishing up a guide to studying Japanese film with Markus Nornes. We finally turned in the manuscript this weekend. This semester I'm teach the intro to film studies course and Japanese film after 1960 and it looks like I have a good bunch of students in both.

This semester will not be as full of events as with my summer class in Tokyo, but we are doing an Ozu retro this fall. This is nothing groundbreaking, but after a couple semesters programming great films that few people know about (and which thus unfortunately don't bring many people), I thought we should sit back a bit and look a bit more at a classical director. It it will be nice to bring in a larger audience to think about some superb Japanese films.

Here is the announcement:

The Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University and the Cinema at the Whitney are pleased to present

OZU Yasujiro Retrospective

Universally considered to be one of the great masters of Japanese (or any) cinema, Ozu Yasujiro had a remarkable career that crossed five decades.  This weekly retrospective, co-sponsored by the Cinema at the Whitney, will provide a rare opportunity to see films from all periods of Ozu's career, drawing attention to his playful humor as well as his formal genius and profound understanding of shifting family relations.  All films will be screened in new 35mm prints.

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