News and Opinion
The Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan, the publisher of a couple of my books, has started up a brand new website that makes it a lot easier to learn about and order their publications. Their previous site did not allow for online ordering, which meant you either had to go through Amazon (in a system that didn't always work) or order by mail.
My book on Page of Madness was published by the CJS, and so was the Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies that I co-wrote with Markus Nornes. I also have an article in Television, Japan, and Globalization. But the press has also put out a number of other important works on Japanese film, such as Tom Lamarre's study of Tanizaki and film and Yoshida Kiju's Ozu's Anti-Cinema.
I am of course eager to enter the Pet of the Month contest.
A great postwar actor, Kobayashi Keiju, has passed away. He died of heart failure on September 16 at the age of 86.
Kobayashi is most famous for helping define the image of the postwar salaryman in the famous "Company President (Shacho)" series at Toho. If Morishige Hisaya was the not incompetent president who sometimes seemed more concerned with flirting with women than running the company, Kobayashi was the one protecting the president and keeping the company together, even if he too had his human foibles (preferring to sleep late if he could, etc.).
But what most impressed me about Kobayashi was that despite playing the same character for the over 30 films in the series, he explored a wide variety of roles in other films and on TV, many of which were quite complex and powerful. His critically most successful role, for instance, was in Okamoto Kihachi's Eburi Man-shi no yugana seikatsu (1963), where his role as a man cynically critical of corporate Japan won him numerous acting awards. He also won the best actor award at the Mainichi Concours in 1958 for playing the itinerant painter, Yamashita Kiyoshi, in Hadaka no taisho, and the Kinema Junpo best actor award in 1960 for Kuroi gashu (both films were directed by Horikawa Hiromichi). He had an impressive ability to play the "everyman" (notice the pun in the title of the Okamoto film) while revealing the cracks underneath.
The great comedian and musician, Tani Kei, passed away on September 11 at the age of 78. He fell down the stairs in his home, hit his head, and died of a cerebral contusion.
I, like most older fans of Japanese cinema, grew up seeing the films that were available on film in the United States at the time. These were the classics of Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi, or the New Wave films of Oshima or Imamura. But there were few comedies. Comedies seemingly did not fit the image of Japan or its cinema that gatekeepers such as critics or film festivals used to single out works to introduce abroad. This also tied into the horribly false stereotype at the time that the Japanese are not a humorous people.
So one of my revelations when I finally went to Japan was the wonderfully rich - and of course hilarious - history of Japanese film comedy. One of the first comedy series I watched was the "Musekinin" (Irresponsible) series featuring the Crazy Cats. The Crazy Cats were a comedy jazz band led by Hana Hajime and featuring Ueki Hitoshi. Their films, produced at Toho, were usually salaryman comedies in which Ueki played a charming, slick, cunning, irresponsible, but still lovable salaryman who uses every trick to advance in the company. Hana usually played a flustered company director, and the other Crazy Cats (Inuzuka Hiroshi, Sakurai Senri, Yasuda Shin, and Ishibashi Eetaro) played various small salaryman roles. But Tani Kei was always there in a crucial part. If Ueki was the fantasy figure, the one you wished you were like, and Hana was the big, blustering, incompetent fool whom you sometimes end up being, Tani, with his roundish face and small figure, was down-to-earth, somewhat slow and silly, blinking his eyes when things were going by too fast - the one you felt most comfortable with. He was always one of my favorites.
Please forgive the lack of posts. The move back to the United States, the beginning of the academic year, new duties as Director of Undergraduate Studies for Film Studies at Yale, a new course in Japanese popular culture, and articles and other things to write - all of that has kept my nose to the grindstone.
But it was nice to receive in the mail the other day the third volume of the Nihon eiga wa ikite iru 『日本映画は生きている』 series that I talked about earlier. This one is numbered volume two and is entitled Eigashi o yominaosu. I have a piece in it.
Here are the particulars:
Editors: Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Yomota Inuhiko, Yoshimi Shun'ya, Lee Bong-U
Cooperating Editors: Ishizaka Kenji, Ueno Toshiya, Kato Mikiro, Komatsu Hiroshi, Aaron Gerow
Volume 2: Eigashi o yominaosu『映画史を読み直す』. The volume focusing on Japanese film history supervised by Komatsu Hiroshi. Contributors include Okada Hidenori (of the Film Center and Caro Diario fame), Kato Mikiro, Roland Domenig, Ogawa Sawako, Ogawa Junko, Nagato Yohei, my student Yamamoto Naoki, and myself. There are also interviews with the benshi Sawato Midori and the film historian and bibliographer Makino Mamoru (the subject of our festschrift). My essay, which was again translated by Tsunoda Takuya, a Yale grad student in Japanese film, is entitled "Benshi ni tsuite," and is largely a summary of my arguments about the benshi contained in Visions of Japanese Modernity.